Did the early church keep the Sabbath?
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/Saturday—as 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.