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Did the early church keep the Sabbath?

November 18, 2009

There is a lot of controversy about the claims made that early Christians worshiped on the first day of the week (Sunday).  The problem with this view point is that there is NO biblical or historical evidence that proves such claims.  Yet many Christians today devoutly defend such claims with little biblical backing or historical proofs.

Think about it, most of the New Testament was written way after the death of Christ, most scholars agree to after 70A.D.  Yet the silence on the issue of a changed day of worship is deafening.  The Bible mentions Sabbath observance as the norm, for instance see Acts 13:42-44

42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 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.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.

How about historical, extra-Biblical evidence?  I’ve found an excerpt from Dr. Samuele Bacchiochi’s newsletter, Endtime Issues Vol 78, that specifically talks about the early church and Sabbath.

(Note: Dr. Bacchiochi is a retired church history professor, who was the first non-catholic admitted to the Vatican’s Gregoriana, where he earned his doctorate doing a dissertation on the Sabbath.  He had unlimited access to the Vatican’s historical archives.)

Here is the excerpt:

The Adoption of the Sabbath Rest in the Roman World

Another important fact ignored by Pastor Taylor is that the Gentiles the Jerusalem Council had in mind were mostly, if not all, Sabbathkeeping God-fearers who had been instructed in the Jewish faith (Acts 10:2; 11:19-20; 13:43, 44; 14:1). They did not need to be taught about the Sabbath commandment. The custom of Sabbathkeeping was common not only among God-fearers (Jewish sympathizers) but also among Gentiles in general.

In a well-known passage, Philo writes: “There is not a single people to which the custom of Sabbath observance has not spread.” (Against Apion 2,39). Tertullian, an influential church leader (about A. D. 200) reproaches the pagans for having adopted the Jewish custom of resting on the Sabbath. He writes: “You have selected one day [Saturday] in preference to other days as the day on which you do not take a bath or you postpone it until the evening, and on which you devote yourselves to leisure and abstain from revelry. In so doing you are turning from your own religion to a foreign religion, for the Sabbath and cena pura [special supper] are Jewish ceremonial observances” (Ad Nationes 1:13).

The Jewish Sabbath became so popular among the Romans that eventually it influenced them to adopt the seven-day week instead of their own eight-day week (nundinum). When this adoption took place just before the Christian era, the Romans made Saturday the first and most important day of the week for resting and banqueting. This development is discussed in chapter 8 of my dissertation FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY. In the light of the popularity of the Sabbath among both the Jews and the Gentiles, the Jerusalem Council could hardly have exempted the Gentiles from Sabbath observance without stirring a major controversy.

A fact often ignored, even by scholars, is that Saturday—Dies Saturni was widely accepted among the Romans as the day of rest. This helps us to understand why Sabbathkeeping never became an issue among Gentile Christians. If Saturday had been a working day in the Roman society, Sabbathkeeping would have been a problem for both Jewish and Gentile Christians. But there are no indications of such a problem in the New Testament or in the early Christian literature. The reason is that the Jews influenced the Romans to accept their Sabbath—known to the Romans as Dies Saturni/Saturdayas the weekly day of rest. Eventually Saturday was replaced by Sun-day, when the Sun-god became the most important god of the Roman Pantheon. This process began in the early part of the second century and culminated in A. D. 321 when Constantine made Sunday a civil holiday.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2009 3:32 pm

    Sabbath was not instituted as a day of worship but as a day of rest. To claim that Christians must worship on the Sabbath is incorrect. To claim that Jews must worship on Sabbath is also incorrect. People were commanded to let their animals do no work on Sabbath. So I really don’t understand why it is taught that Christians must worship and gather on Sabbath. That’s not what God instituted the Sabbath for.

    • November 18, 2009 3:55 pm

      No where in my post did I say that we are required to worship on the Sabbath. The reason we worship on the Sabbath is because we want to commune with God. It is the day he set aside since creation, as a weekly appointment where we can hang out with our Lord.

      “So I really don’t understand why it is taught that Christians must worship and gather on Sabbath. That’s not what God instituted the Sabbath for.”

      Well, we get our example from Jesus, the disciples, and the early church. What did Jesus do on the Sabbath while he was alive. He taught, healed, preached. Paul and the early church continued to meet on Sabbaths, thus we carry on that weekly tradition today.

      No one is forcing you go to church. Going to church to worship doesn’t guarantee your salvation, just as the Sabbath is not a ‘saving truth’. Worshiping on Sabbath however shows your loyalty and commitment to God, and shows where our priorities are, because if we love Him, we keep His Commandments (John 14:15)

  2. November 18, 2009 5:26 pm

    Hi, on my blog you did. You said “Was it a worship service? Could it have been a Bible study at night? If that’s an example for us Christians, why don’t we worship Saturday nights as well instead of Sunday morning services?”

    The whole gist of your argument was that Christians were gathering in worship on Saturday, not Sunday.

    Actually, worship should not be limited to any particular day but all days.

    The way I see it is if you feel it is a sin not to go to church on Saturday, then you should go. In the end, each is to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. I actually hear what you’re saying because when I first started to attend a messianic congregation, I used many of the same arguments that you do — with extreme passion and vehemence. Actually, I could make your arguments for you as those were the same that I used to make.

    Sabbath day is and always is the 7th day. But there is no requirement to gather on that day. There is no command to have a group worship service on that day. Attending church on Sunday is not a sin nor is it forbidden. Attending church on Tuesday in worship is also not forbidden nor a sin. Attending church on Saturday is not a command.

    I have enjoyed these conversations on our different blogs but to be honest, I am growing weary for there never really will be a meeting of the mind on this issue. I’m going to be late in posting my next post on an entirely new subject. Come Saturday, I will be going to church becuase I attend a messianic congregation. As one pastor that I met at a Messianic conference who came out of Orthodox Judaism, Messianic congregations meet on Sabbath because of Jewish tradition. It’s the only commandment that is not restated in the New Testament as a commandment. The other nine are.

    • November 18, 2009 7:22 pm

      Well, I do hope someday our minds meet on the issue. The Bible is clear on this issue. I’ll respond briefly to points in each paragraph.

      1. I was simply highlighting the fact that it was not a traditional worship service per se, but something more of an informal Bible study session. You have to keep in mind that writers would make mention a an event that was out of the ordinary, and not write about routine Sabbath gatherings. What happened that night? If you read on, a fellow fell asleep and fell out of the window. Something worth mentioning no?

      The fact that Jesus and the Apostles gathered weekly at the synagogue on Sabbath should be example enough.

      2. “each is to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” That’s not how we should approach our Salvation. God doesn’t want to scare us into obedience. He wants us to obey, out of our own free will, and out of love for him. That’s why Jesus says, “If you LOVE me, KEEP my Commandments” John 14:15. What are HIS commandments? God’s law naturally or the 10 commandments. I agree with you that the Sabbath wasn’t created for worship services. No. It was created as a time to commune with God.

      3. “Attending church on Saturday is not a command.” You are right. But Keeping it Holy is. It’s what you do on the Sabbath that determines whether you are obeying God’s law. Jesus showed us how to keep the Sabbath. He taught, worshiped, healed, fellowshipped with others. What better example do we have than Jesus.

      4. “It’s the only commandment that is not restated in the New Testament as a commandment. The other nine are.” Hebrews 4:9. Also doesn’t actions speak louder than words? Jesus kept the Sabbath. the Disciples kepts the Sabbath. Gentiles even kepts the Sabbath. See Acts 13. Isn’t that proof enough? Next time you study the Bible, pray and ask God to show you the truth of this matter.

  3. November 18, 2009 8:26 pm

    “each is to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”

    Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
    (Php 2:12 ESV)

    Hi, as to the rest of your response, we’re just going back and forth in circles. I’m going to bow out of this conversation as I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere. Like I said, I used to be exactly where you are and could make those arguments for you. I used to do just that.

    I’d still like to read your blog and comment but on other topics. 🙂

    • November 19, 2009 12:24 pm

      I’ll definitely send you posts on whatever I think may interest you 🙂

  4. November 18, 2009 8:51 pm

    Or at least I want to take a break from these Sabbath debates. I know I won’t convince you and you won’t convince me especially since I used to be in your camp at one time. I’ll probably come back to this in the near future but for now, I need a break. These debates can be very consuming. 🙂

    • November 19, 2009 8:03 am

      They are. It gets tiring sometimes, especially when you show people the correct exegesis of the proof texts they use, and shrug it off and bring up other ways of justifying their views.

  5. January 30, 2010 8:12 pm

    Acts 13:42-44 is speaking of Jews, not believers. Let’s try some context.

  6. Jim Reynolds permalink
    June 17, 2012 6:13 am

    I do believe the 4th Commandment was re-instated by Jesus, when He said “The Sabbath was made for man (not Jews), not man for the Sabbath.

  7. Jim Reynolds permalink
    June 17, 2012 6:23 am

    Plus he did not have to re-instate it, because they were all keeping it. This is a never ending excuse to try and justify Sunday worship. When you worship on sunday your bowing to the POPE. People just can’t admit their wrong. I was taught sunday worship for over 60 years. I thank GOD for showing me the right path. It was HIM, not any named church that did it. I don’t even have a church within 150 miles that worship on the Sabbath. I have to do the best I can, at home with just myself and Jesus. I couldn’t find better companion though.

  8. February 2, 2013 8:29 pm

    Those who have been brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e., converted Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath but living in observance of the Lord’s day.

    –Ignatius, Magnesians 10, A.D. 110

    Christians are not commanded to keep sabbath

    • February 8, 2013 9:12 pm

      So you’re saying Ignatius > any biblical writer? Or God’s commandment for that matter?

    • September 15, 2016 5:47 pm

      What day is the Lords Day? I believe the day that Jesus claimed to be the Lord of would be a good place to start. In the words of our Lord, “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

  9. September 15, 2016 5:34 pm

    Paul admonished the gentile believers in Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1); so, if it was Pauls custom to attend Sabbath services (Acts 17:2), and we know that Paul was merely emulating Jesus in doing so (Luke 4:16), why do we fail to follow their example?

    As if Jesus’ example shouldn’t be enough for those who claim to “follow” him, the apostle John puts it this way…

    “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to WALK IN THE SAME WAY IN WHICH HE WALKED” (1 John 2:3-6).


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