The Sabbath Sentinel: More on Ignatius and the Sabbath


Did early Christians keep Saturday or Sunday? While there are various opinions about this, some of those opinions are not based upon biblical or historical fact. Yesterday, I posted an article related to this (part two of a series).

The Bible Sabbath Association, which is not a Church of God group (though it has members that are in the COGs, as well as members who are not), published a version of the following in the latest edition (March-April 2017, pp. 16-18) of its The Sabbath Sentinel magazine which helps give additional historical information:

More on Ignatius and the Sabbath

By Bob Thiel, Ph.D.

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

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

Perhaps the most commonly cited major claim in favor of early Sunday worship is from Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians. And that was partially handled in the previous part which explained that Ignatius’ writing was NOT doing away with the Sabbath, but only warning not to keep it the way that many Jews did.

How did many Jews keep it? Alfred Edersheim, a 19th century scholar, observed related to the Jewish Talmud (the Mishna and Gemara) and keeping the Sabbath:

In not less than 24 chapters, matters are seriously discussed as of vital religious importance, which one would scarcely imagine a sane intellect would seriously entertain. [1].

Note that these are mainly restrictions that are not found in the Bible (I have read many of these restrictions in the Mishna and they do seem to be absurd).  Jesus also taught that Pharisaical Jews had improper concepts about the Sabbath (e.g. Matthew 12:1-14; Luke 13:10-17).

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

Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner…[2]

Furthermore, the above version of Ignatius’ letter adds:

But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. [3]

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

Ignatius’s Other Writings

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

It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not stedfastly gathered together according to the commandment. [4]

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 [5].

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 [6].

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

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

In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius warned 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 [7].

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” (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:8-12) in regards to the ten commandments, including the Sabbath commandment.

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

4:3 And again to lie against God, as if He forbad us to do any good thing on the sabbath day, is not this profane? [8]

This is simply additional evidence that the way of sabbath emphasis of those who professed Christ was different from that held by many of the Jews then. True Christians understood Jesus’ teachings that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath (e.g. Matthew 12:12).

Ignatius’ writings do NOT ‘do away with’ the Sabbath. They basically point out the Christians are to keep it as God intended, not as some Jews later decided.


[1] Edersheim A. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume 2. Longmans, Green, and Company, 1883, p. 775

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

[3 Ibid

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

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

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

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

[8] The Epistle To Diognetus. Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. In Apostolic Fathers. Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation, Online version © 2001 Peter Kirby
Dr. Thiel has been interested in the Church of God for over 40 years. He was baptized by a Worldwide Church of God minister in 1977. He writes extensively. He is currently the Overseeing Pastor of the Continuing Church of God, one of the top ten groups (in terms of membership) whose leaders were once part of the old Worldwide Church of God. Hundreds of thousands know him as “COGwriter” as he writes over 1000 news posts and articles per year at

This is the second article I have had published in The Sabbath Sentinel (here is a link to the first: The Sabbath Sentinel: The Didache and the Sabbath).

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

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

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

Some items of possibly related interest may include the following:

The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad Was the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath observed by the apostolic and post-apostolic Church? Here is a related sermon video The Christian Sabbath and How and Why to Keep It.
Early Sabbath Keeping in North America When did Europeans first keep the Sabbath in North America? Did the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower keep Saturday or Sunday?
How to Observe the Sabbath How should you keep the Sabbath? This is an old article by Raymond Cole, with updated information for the 21st century.
The Dramatic Story of Chinese Sabbathkeepers This reformatted Good News article from 1955 discusses Sabbath-keeping in China in the 1800s.
Is God Unreasonable? Some have suggested that if God requires Sabbath-keeping He is unreasonable. Is that true? Here is a link to a related article in Mandarin Chinese 一个不合理的神?
Should You Observe God’s Holy Days or Demonic Holidays? This is a free pdf booklet explaining what the Bible and history shows about God’s Holy Days and popular holidays. A related sermon is Which Spring Days should Christians observe?
Is Revelation 1:10 talking about Sunday or the Day of the Lord?
Most Protestant scholars say Sunday is the Lord’s Day, but is that what the Bible teaches?
Sunday and Christianity Was Sunday observed by the apostolic and true post-apostolic Christians? Who clearly endorsed Sunday? What relevance is the first or the “eighth” day? A related sermon is also available: Sunday: First and Eighth Day?
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.
Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings Are traditions on equal par with scripture? Many believe that is what Peter, John, and Paul taught. But did they?
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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