The Seventh Day, Part 2:
The First Day of the Week
by Chuck Missler
Last month we explored the origin of the Sabbath Day and
its observance in the Old Testament and the period of the Gospels. As
Christians, however, we venerate the first
day of the week in honor of the Resurrection of our Lord
Jesus Christ and tend to regard that as equivalent - in some respects, at least
- to "remembering the Sabbath Day to keep it holy."
However, for many there is still a discomfort with the ostensible
of the clearly established Seventh Day as God's
While many contend that the basis of Sunday worship is suggested in some of
the passages in the New Testament, it is not as clearly taught as we might
hope. The practices of the early church, however, do seem rather well
The Sabbath in the Early Church
Ignatius, the disciple of the Apostle John and the Bishop of Antioch, wrote
to the Magnesians in the early years of the second century:
Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old
fables. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge
that we have not received grace
And then he goes on to categorize his readers as:
...those who were brought up in the ancient order of
things but who have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing
Justin Martyr, the first great Christian apologist
around the middle of the second century, explains in his Dialogue with
why the Christians do not
keep the law of Moses, submit to circumcision, or observe the Sabbath. He
1. True Sabbath observance under the new covenant is the keeping of a
perpetual Sabbath, which consists of turning from sin;
2.The righteous men of old, Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the like,
pleased God without keeping the Sabbath;
[Prove it! They probably did .]
3. God imposed the Sabbath upon Israelites because of unrighteousness
and hardness of heart.3
This appears a bit specious, however. There is clear evidence that the
redemption through blood atonement,4 the concept of
"clean" vs. "unclean,"5 as well as the Sabbath
ordained as early as the Garden of Eden, and then later codified under the
Mosaic law. God didn't "impose" the Sabbath on Israel "because of
unrighteousness and hardness of heart"; it was in observance in Exodus 16, four
Exodus 20. Justin Martyr's myopic
perspective is disturbing.
Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons during the latter part of the second century,
viewed the Sabbath as symbolic of the future kingdom of God, "in which the man
who shall have persevered in serving God shall, in a state of rest, partake of
God's table."7 He cites Abraham as one who believed
God "without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths." While his
assumptions about Abraham appear presumptuous, his "typological" view is
consistent with Hebrews 4.
Clement of Alexandria, writing in
The Stromata around the close of the second
century, says "The Sabbath, by abstinence from evil, seems to indicate
self-restraint."8 [I would hope that our
self-restraint from evil would not be limited to one day in seven!]
Tertullian, at the beginning of the third century, said, "We have nothing to
do with Sabbaths or the other Jewish festivals, much less with those of the
heathen."9 He was destined for disappointment as
Sunday, as a pagan festival, was later legislated.
In another work he says that those who would contend for the continued
obligation of Sabbath-keeping and circumcision must show that Adam, Abel, Noah,
Enoch, Melchizedek and Lot also observed these things. [In view of Genesis
2:1-3 and Exodus 16, I personally would be very surprised if they didn't!]
His view of circumcision, and the law in general, is in accord with the council
at Jerusalem in Acts 15 and Paul's clear teaching.
He goes on to say that the Sabbath was a figure of rest from sin and typical
of man's final rest in God. It, together with the other ceremonial
regulations of the law, was only intended to last until a new Lawgiver should
arise who should introduce the realities of which these were but shadows.
11 And this is, indeed, consistent with the teachings of
While later writers came to think of Sunday as bearing an analogy to the
Hebrew Sabbath, and others called the Christian holy day a Sabbath,
13 they grounded its observance more on the authority of the
Church than on the teaching of any text.
In the course of Constantine's wars with his rivals to establish himself on
the throne, on October 27, 312 A.D., on the eve of the battle of Milvain Bridge
just outside of Rome, he is reported to have seen in the sky a vision of the
cross with the words: "In this Sign Conquer."
He had painted on his men's shields a figure that was,
perhaps, intended to be Christ's monogram (although he may have had Christ
confused with the Sun in his manifestation as Summa Divinitas
["the highest divinity"]. He won the
battle and declared himself a Christian, establishing a turning point in the
history of Christianity.14
Whether this was a true conversion or a politically advantageous
rationalization is a matter of scholastic dispute.
Like his father, he had originally been a votary of the Sun
and had gone to worship at the Grand Temple of the Sun in the Vosges Mountains in
Gaul, where he had his first vision - a pagan one.
This may well have been simply a pragmatic attempt to
unify the empire. He was faced with a diverse population following
numerous forms of pagan sun worship. The Syrian solar cults of Sol
Invictus (the unconquerable sun) and Jupiter Dolichenus had played
an important role under previous rulers. The Persian cult of the ancient
Iranian god of light, Mithra, had also spread throughout the
empire. There developed a syncretism that tended toward a "solar
monotheism" to fuse into a single supreme god all of the pagan divinities,
especially the solar gods Sol, Helios, Sarapis, and
[This was the same type of pagan pragmatism that
Mohammed later exploited in syncretizing the 360 idols of Ka'aba into
the worship of Al-Ilah
And another key demographic factor was emerging: by the end of the Imperial
Persecutions (313 A.D.), Christians, then an illegal sect, numbered about half
of the population of the Roman Empire. The embracing of this growing
underground movement could simply have been an extremely clever stratagem for
Emperor Constantine served from 306 - 337 A.D. He ultimately abolished
slavery, gladiatorial fights, the killing of unwelcome children, and crucifixion
as a form of execution. Frustrated with the paganism clung to by the
aristocracy in Rome, he relocated the capital of the world to Byzantium,
renaming it the "New Rome," Constantinople (now Istanbul).
This, too, may have been motivated by its strategic and economic importance,
with its proximity to the Danube and Euphrates frontiers and the straits of
Bosphorus and the eastern commercial routes.
The Edict of Toleration, 313 A.D : By this edict, Constantine granted to
"Christians and to all others full liberty of following that religion which each
may choose." This was the first edict of its kind in history. (This has
been superseded in America by Darwinism and the God of Chance, a paganism which
is now enforced in schools and public places.)
On March 7, 321, Constantine introduced the first civil legislation
concerning Sunday: "Let all the judges and town people, and the occupation of
all trades rest on the venerable day of the sun."17 In 325
A.D., Constantine issued a general exhortation to all his subjects to embrace
Christianity. He ordered 50 Bibles to be prepared under the direction of
Eusebius, on the finest vellum and by skillful artists.
In his zeal to institute a universal creed, he presided over the Council of
Nicaea in 325. He personally was not actually baptized until his deathbed
It was a later successor, Emperor Theodosius (347-395 A.D.), who made
Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. His legislation
in 380 affirmed the dogmas of the Council of Nicaea and made church
membership compulsory (the worst calamity that has ever befallen the
Theodosius undertook the forcible suppression of all other religions, and in
392 he prohibited paganism.19 Thus began the
great apostasy as the church began its pursuit of temporal power.
was through this fusing of extant paganism with the new Christianity that the
December 25 of Sol Invictus
became the Christmas of
the Christians, etc.)
If our perceptions of Revelation 13, 17, and 18 are correct, the current
"Ecumenical Movement" will ultimately lead to a reprise of global ecclesiastical
tyranny and the Darkest Ages of all...and another "Holocaust" to come.
21 Hegel was right: "History teaches that man learns
nothing from history."
There remain a number of views regarding the replacement of the Seventh Day
with the first day of the week:
The "Christian Sabbath"
This view holds that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, the observance of which
is a moral obligation based on the 4th commandment of the Decalogue. This
view emphasizes the divine institution of the Sabbath at the close of
creation. God's blessing and sanctification of the seventh day is taken to
mean that He intended one day in seven to be observed by all men in all ages as
a sacred day of rest and worship.
It is regarded as a moral command of universal and perpetual
obligation. It is held that Jesus affirmed that He was "lord even of the
Sabbath"22 and therefore had the authority to change
the day of its observance. It is usually held that this change took place
during the 40 days between Christ's resurrection and ascension when He spoke to
them concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Sabbatarianism is the doctrine of those Christians who believe that
Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, to be observed in accordance with the 4th
commandment. In its strictest form, it was the creation of the Scottish
and English Reformers, especially John Knox. The Scottish Presbyterians
and the Puritans brought their views to the colonies, where rigorous "blue laws"
Sabbatarians insist that Jesus intended to perpetuate the Sabbath and
extend its application to all men. Much stress is placed on His statement,
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," as evidence that Jesus
regarded the Sabbath as an institution which is grounded in the very
constitution of man, and which was instituted by God from the very beginning not
only for Israel but for the whole human race. The teachings of Paul
regarding the Sabbath are taken to refer only to the Jewish Sabbath and not to
the "Christian Sabbath."
The Bible does teach that God instituted the
Sabbath at the close of Creation, and the Sabbath is identified as "the
seventh day," not as one day in
seven.23 There is both a moral element and a
ceremonial element in the 4th commandment. The moral element provides for
the worship of God. The ceremonial elements is viewed as applying only to
the Israelites. Jesus Himself treated the Sabbath law as ceremonial when
He defended His disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath. A moral law
could never be suspended by circumstances of hunger or by the requirements of
merely ceremonial regulation. Paul made no distinction between ceremonial
and moral laws when he declared that all external law is abrogated for the
The basic weakness of this theory is the teaching that a change was made in
the day of the week to be observed as the Sabbath. There is not the
slightest hint in the New Testament that Jesus transferred the Sabbath to
another day of the week.
If one insists on the perpetual and universal obligation of the
4th commandment, and at the same time recognizes that there is no New
Testament ground for a change in the day of its observance, the only logical position
to which one is forced to maintain is that the seventh day of the week, and not
the first day, should be observed as the Sabbath, as the 4th commandment
The Seventh-Day Sabbath
[Christians who believe that the Sabbath should still be
observed on Saturday are also
sometimes called Sabbatarians.] This view, held by the Seventh-Day
Baptists who originated in England in the 17th century, and by Seventh-Day
Adventists who originated in America in the 19th century, insists that the
Christians are obligated to keep the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath.
They regard the Ten Commandments as "the Law of God," to be distinguished
from the ceremonial laws, which are called "the law of Moses."
25 They find evidence for the observance of the
seventh day in the New Testament. They appeal to the practice of Jesus and
the apostles attending the synagogue on the Sabbath.
They apply Jesus' prophecy regarding the future flight from Jerusalem and His
exhortation that they should pray that their flight should "not be on the
Sabbath day."27 (They seem to ignore the
possibility that this event might be post-rapture and refers to "those who are
They also contend that the reference in Revelation to "being in the Spirit on
the Lord's day" is a reference to the seventh-day Sabbath.
28 (This author, however, believes that this is
actually a reference to the "Day of the Lord" as portrayed by Joel, et al.
The aorist tense in the Greek would seem to support the uniqueness of John's
Actual "evidence" of Sunday worship is circumstantial, and describes actions
of observant Jews. The distinctions advanced by the Sabbatarians have no
direct Biblical evidence or attendant instruction. And as for compulsory
ritualistic commitments, Paul definitely included the Sabbath command among
those ordinances which were done away with in Christ.
The evidence from the early church leaders is clear that they did not regard
Sunday as a continuation of the Hebrew Sabbath.
The Dangers of
Many of us have encountered the zeal of the Seventh-Day Adventists over the
"Seventh Day" issue, and there are many of their observations incorporated in
this material. However, it is not the Seventh Day issue which emerges as
theologically predominant: it is the role of the Law, and our liberty in Christ
that is the paramount fundamental issue.
The clear and emphatic teachings in the Epistles to the Galatians,
Colossians, and Romans far overshadow any particular cultural customs, and
underscores our freedom from external rules as the key instruction in entire New
Testament. That, indeed, is the "Good News."
Can we enjoy the benefits of the Sabbath without "coming under the law?"
As we mentioned last month, it seems clear that Adam, Cain, Enoch, Noah, et
al, all had instruction on the seventh day of rest. It was still the
pattern in Exodus 16 before the manna was given. It was memorialized in
the Decalogue. And it was observed by Christ ceremonially. (We adopt other
Jewish practices to our benefit without incurring the burdens of the law:
circumcision, some of the dietary practices, etc.)
The Sabbath was not only a memorial to celebrate His Creation. It is also a
type, or foreshadowing, of His Rest, the ultimate climax of His
Redemption.29 Can we enter into His Rest
literally as well as figuratively?
* * *
This article was excerpted from our Briefing Pack, The Seventh
- Exodus 20:8-11.
- The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol I,
- The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol i, pp.199, 200, 204,
- Genesis 3:21 vs. 3:7.
- Genesis 7:2ff.
- Genesis 2:1-3.
- Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 16, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol I, p.481.
- The Stromata, Book VII, Chapter 12, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II,
- On Idolatry, Chap. 14, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III,
- Colossians 2:16, 17, Romans 14:5, et al.
- An Answer to the Jews, Chap. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III, pp.153, 155,
- Hebrews 4:1-11.
- Eusebius, Commentary on the Ninety-first Psalm, quoted by J. A. Hessey, Sunday, pp.299, 300;
Alcuin, Homily 18, post Pentecost, quoted by A. E. J.
Rawlinson, The World's Question and the Christian's Answer, p.78; P.
Alphonsus quoted by Hessey, Sunday, p. 903; all quoted in Zondervan'
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.
- EB, Vol 20, 353-4.
- His contemporaries, Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea are
not enlightening and even contradictory on the subject. EB, Vol 20,
- EB, Vol 20, p.349, 355.
- Corpus Juris Civilis Cod., lib. 3, tit. 12, Lex. 3, given in Latin and in English in Philip
Schaff's History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, 3d period, chapter 7,
sec. 75, p.380, fn 1. Also in Albert Henry Newman's A Manual of Church
History, rev. ed., The American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia
PA, 1933, Vol 1, pp.305-307; and in Leroy E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of
Our Fathers, Review and Herald Publishing Assoc., Washington DC, Vol 1.,
- We generally fail to appreciate the costliness of such
an undertaking in the absence of modern printing. See How We Got Our
- Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol 18,
- For a shocking summary of the history of the church - of
which every Christian needs to be aware - see our Briefing Package, The
Kingdom of Blood.
- Zechariah 13:8; Jeremiah 30:7, "the
time of Jacob's trouble," indeed.
- Mark 2:27, 28.
- Genesis 2:3; Exodus 16:29; 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14.
- Colossians 2:10-16.
- A. L. Baker, Belief and Work of Seventh-Day
- Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14, 42; 16:13; 17:1, 2;
- Matthew 24:20.
- Revelation 1:10.
- Hebrews 4:1-11.