Sabbath or Sunday

A History Lesson By: Philip Schaff

Editor’s Note: This is taken from History of the Christian Church: Volume 2 (p.201-205) by Philip Schaff. Although some of Schaff’s doctrinal stands are wrong, he was an excellent historian. Those who want the actual documents and quotations alluded to here will find them listed in the footnotes of this section of the book. For ease of reading, only portions of the chapter are used here. However, the wording has not been changed (unless by accident).

The celebration of the Lord’s Day in memory of the resurrection of Christ dates undoubtedly from the apostolic age. Nothing short of apostolic precedent can account for the universal religious observance in the churches of the second century. There is no dissenting voice. This custom is confirmed by the testimonies of the earliest post-apostolic writers, as Barnabas, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr. It is also confirmed by the younger Pliny. The Didache calls the first day “the Lord’s Day of the Lord.”…

The fathers did not regard the Christian Sunday as a continuation of, but as a substitute for, the Jewish Sabbath, and based it not so much on the fourth commandment, and the primitive rest of God in creation, as upon the resurrection of Christ and the apostolic tradition. There was a disposition to disparage the Jewish law in the zeal to prove the independent originality of Christian institutions… Sunday was always regarded in the ancient church as a divine institution, at least in the secondary sense, as distinct from divine ordinances in the primary sense, which were directly and positively commanded by Christ, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Regular public worship absolutely requires a stated day of worship.

Ignatius was the first who contrasted Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath as something done away with. So did the author of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas. Justin Martyr, in controversy with a Jew, says that the pious before Moses pleased God without circumcision and the Sabbath, and that Christianity requires not one particular Sabbath, but a perpetual Sabbath. He assigns as a reason for the selection of the first day for the purposes of Christian worship, because on that day God dispelled the darkness and the chaos, and because Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his assembled disciples…

Dionysius of Corinth mentions Sunday incidentally in a letter to the church of Rome, A.D., 170: “Today we kept the Lord’s Day holy, in which we read your letter.” Melito of Sardis wrote a treatise on the Lord’s Day, which is lost. Irenaeus of Lyons, about 170, bears testimony to the celebration of the Lord’s Day, but likewise regards the Jewish Sabbath merely as a symbolical and typical ordinance, and says that “Abraham without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths believed in God,” which proves “the symbolical and temporary character of those ordinances, and their inability to make perfect.” Tertullian, at the close of the second and beginning of the third century, views the Lord’s Day as figurative of rest from sin and typical of man’s final rest, and says: “We have nothing to do with Sabbaths, new moons or the Jewish festivals, much less with those of the heathen. We have our solemnities, the Lord’s Day, for instance, and Pentecost…

We see then that the ante-Nicean church clearly distinguished the Christian Sunday from the Jewish Sabbath, and put it on independent Christian ground… She regarded Sunday as a sacred day, as the Day of the Lord, as the weekly commemoration of his resurrection and the Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, and therefore as a day of holy joy and thanksgiving to be celebrated even before the rising of the sun by prayer, praise, and communion with the risen Lord and Saviour.


Daily Proverb

Proverbs 21:31

The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.