Early Church Fathers – About the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day

No one can add anything to God’s Word. The Word of God is the sole authority in matters of doctrine and practice. And God’s Word is more than clear about the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day; we have studied this in the article “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day”. In that article, we have seen how the Bible explains the meaning of the Sabbath, and we have seen how the Old Covenant and the Sabbath of the old creation were abolished, the Christians are not of the old creation, and the Apostles and all Christians respected the Lord’s Table and thus the Lord’s Day.

Now, when we want to study the history of the Church after the Apostolic time, we have the writings of the Church Fathers as a resource. Although these Church Fathers were fallible humans, and so their writings are not authoritative like the Scripture, and yet they present to us what was the practice of the Church in those days and they show us what the different heresies and sects believed. Indeed, you will see how these Fathers quoted the Scripture and tried to understand the passages of the Scripture in the light of other Scripture passages, so they were not the authority as heretics say today, but they considered the Scripture as the only authority. And the special importance of the early or Apostolic Church Fathers is that they were closer to the time of the Apostles, and thus they can present to us a clearer view of what was the practice of the Church during the time of the Apostles and immediately after that time.

Now, present day heretical teachers tell us that at the beginning, the Church used to observe the Sabbath, and that later, especially with the emperor Constantine, the Church made a new law and changed the day from Sabbath to the Lord’s Day or Sunday. We have seen in the article “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day” that this is not true; the Apostles made it clear that the Sabbath was abolished. And we also have the witness of the early Church Fathers about this, as we will see in this article. In fact, we will see how the heretical Sabbatarians of today actually follow the ways of the old day heretics, and not the way of the Lord and His Apostles. In the following lines, we will see the different quotes from the early Church Fathers concerning the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, and we will show how they back up all what we said in the article “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day”.

[I emphasize the most essential parts by putting them in bold. My notes are in blue after each quote.]

Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter VIII, and Chapter IX

Be not deceived with strange doctrines, “nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies,” and things in which the Jews make their boast. “Old things are passed away: behold, all things have become new.” For if we still live according to the Jewish law, and the circumcision of the flesh, we deny that we have received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Jesus Christ. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, the Almighty, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word, not spoken, but essential. For He is not the voice of an articulate utterance, but a substance begotten by divine power, who has in all things pleased Him that sent Him.

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death–whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master–how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead.

If, then, those who were conversant with the ancient Scriptures came to newness of hope, expecting the coming of Christ, as the Lord teaches us when He says, “If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me;” and again, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad; for before Abraham was, I am;” how shall we be able to live without Him? The prophets were His servants, and foresaw Him by the Spirit, and waited for Him as their Teacher, and expected Him as their Lord and Saviour, saying, “He will come and save us.” Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness; for “he that does not work, let him not eat.” For say the [holy] oracles, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread.” 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 ancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week]. Looking forward to this, the prophet declared, “To the end, for the eighth day,” on which our life both sprang up again, and the victory over death was obtained in Christ, whom the children of perdition, the enemies of the Saviour, deny, “whose god is their belly, who mind earthly things,” who are “lovers of pleasure, and not lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” These make merchandise of Christ, corrupting His word, and giving up Jesus to sale: they are corrupters of women, and covetous of other men’s possessions, swallowing up wealth insatiably; from whom may ye be delivered by the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

In this passage, the statements of Ignatius are really strong! He says that if you are still observing the ordinances of the Old Covenant, then you denied Grace! Indeed, those who keep the old Sabbath actually deny the Resurrection and its power. That’s really dangerous. He describes people who observe the old creation’s Sabbath as lovers of pleasure who have just a form of godliness and yet deny its power! He says that such people “make merchandise of Christ”, they corrupt His Word, and they give up Jesus to sale; i.e. they consider that the Gospel of the Lord is a trade and that His Name is a trademark (God forbid!) They don’t have the reality of the spiritual life! Although today some people are deceived by false teachers and so keep the Sabbath with ignorance, but they should be very careful, as that’s a heresy and they are in danger of having refused the Grace of the Lord! Ignatius also explains what we have explained in the article “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day”: That Christians have a new hope, as they belong to the new creation that “sprung up” by the death and resurrection of our Lord. So the Christians who really experienced this Salvation are “no longer observing the Sabbath”, says Ignatius. The true Christians no longer observe a Sabbath of the old creation in the manner with which the Jews used to keep the Sabbath; the Christians “keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner”, says Ignatius, NOT in relaxation of the body and NOT by eating things prepared the day before. This makes it clear that the Christians did not observe the Sabbath day as a day in which they should not work and they should have physical rest. We will also see how Justin Martyr also makes it clear that this rest is a perpetual rest, now that Christ has made us enter in the real rest. Ignatius also makes it clear that we should keep the Lord’s Day, NOT as the old creation’s Sabbath, but as the Day of the Resurrection, the new creation. And interestingly, Ignatius points out that the Lord’s Day is the eighth day in which Jesus Christ rose from the dead! Indeed, we have emphasized this in details in our article “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day”.

Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter IX

During the Sabbath He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathaea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord’s day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord’s Day contains the resurrection.

I quoted this for those who even claim that the resurrection happened on the Sabbath day and not on the first day of the week, i.e. the Lord’s Day.

The Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter II

For He hath revealed to us by all the prophets that He needs neither sacrifices, nor burnt-offerings, nor oblations, saying thus, “What is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me, saith the Lord? I am full of burnt-offerings, and desire not the fat of lambs, and the blood of bulls and goats, not when ye come to appear before Me: for who hath required these things at your hands? Tread no more My courts, not though ye bring with you fine flour. Incense is a vain abomination unto Me, and your new moons and sabbaths I cannot endure.” He has therefore abolished these things, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation.

Although we are not sure that Barnabas is the author of this epistle, and yet we know that this epistle comes from the early Church, from the time of the early Fathers. This passage says that God has abolished the Old Covenant, i.e. the ordinances of the Law that were just a shadow of the substance.

The Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter XV

Further, He says to them, “Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure.” Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.

Here, once again our note about the eighth day is backed up. The author explains how this eighth day is the beginning of a new creation, and therefore Christians keep this eighth day.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XII

The new law requires you to keep perpetual sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you: and if you eat unleavened bread, you say the will of God has been fulfilled. The Lord our God does not take pleasure in such observances: if there is any perjured person or a thief among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true sabbaths of God. If any one has impure hands, let him wash and be pure.

As I already explained above, in this passage Justin Martyr makes it clear that Christians have found the real rest in Christ, so they no longer observe the old Sabbath of ceasing from work for one day, but they are in the rest every day. He also makes a strong statement: that God is not pleased in the observance of the old Sabbath and of all the Old Covenant ordinances. Indeed, if the fulfillment came in Christ, then we deny Christ by going back to the Old Covenant. And, as we know, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (cf. Romans 8:5-8). Justin Martyr says that the true keeping of the Sabbath is when you repent of dead works and do good, i.e. when you are born of God and thus enter the rest of Christ by the Spirit, waiting for the redemption of the body and the complete rest.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XLI

The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.

Again, Justin Martyr stresses on the importance of the eighth day about which we previously wrote in details.

Justin Martyr, The First Apology, Chapter LXVII

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Here, Justin Martyr explains how the Gentiles called the first day Sunday after the name of the sun, and the Sabbath day Saturday after the name of Saturn. As he was writing and talking to Gentiles who had a pagan background, he was using their language in order to make them understand the truths of the New Covenant. It was a habit with the Church Fathers to use such similarities from paganism in order to communicate the biblical truths, just as Paul used the “unknown god” to preach about Christ (cf. Acts 17:23). Justin Martyr makes it clear that the Church always gathered together around the Lord’s Table on the Lord’s Day, i.e. Sunday. This passage gives us a beautiful picture of the close relation between the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Table. It also gives us a beautiful picture of the simple worship of the Church in those days that was corrupted later by vain human philosophies in many heretical churches that are today in apostasy and do not respect the Lord’s Table in this beautiful and simple way as it is described in this passage.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XXIV

“Now, sirs,” I said, “it is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import, which the seventh day did not possess, and which was promulgated by God through these rites.

Again, an emphasis on the importance of the eighth day, i.e. the Lord’s Day.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter CXXXVIII

“You know, then, sirs,” I said, “that God has said in Isaiah to Jerusalem: `I saved thee in the deluge of Noah.’ By this which God said was meant that the mystery of saved men appeared in the deluge. For righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the deluge, i.e., with his own wife, his three sons and their wives, being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose from the dead, for ever the first in power. For Christ, being the first-born of every creature, became again the chief of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of the cross; even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode over the waters with his household.

Here again, Justin Martyr relates the eighth day with the new creation. As we previously said, the Christian is of this new creation, so he respects the Lord’s Table and the Lord’s Day, the eighth day. This eighth day was symbolized with many shadow pictures in the Old Testament, as we have explained in our article “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day”. Justin Martyr chose the example of Noah and his family (eighth persons) to explain this truth.

Eusebius, The Church History, Volume I, Book III, The Heresy of the Ebionites

5. The Sabbath and the rest of the discipline of the Jews they observed just like them, but at the same time, like us, they celebrated the Lord’s days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour.

6. Wherefore, in consequence of such a course they received the name of Ebionites, which signified the poverty of their understanding. For this is the name by which a poor man is called among the Hebrews.

Eusebius is not a very early Church Father, and yet I quote him because his work “The Church History” is a very important work that covers the first three centuries of the Church.

Eusebius says that in those days there was a heresy called the heresy of the Ebionites who observed the Sabbath like the Jews, and at the same time they observed the Lord’s Day “like us” (i.e. like the Christians).

Indeed, the early Church Father Irenaeus explains to us that the Ebionites used to keep the ordinances of the Old Covenant, just like the Jews:

Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter XXVI)

CONCLUSION

“That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

Today’s Sabbatarians are the new Ebionites, the children of those Ebionites who didn’t really know Christ. Indeed, they deny Grace and the true power of the Resurrection, and they make a trade of the Gospel, as they preach a false gospel. Those who do not know the voice of the Shepherd (cf. John 10:4-5) follow any false gospel: “For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” (2 Corinthians 11:4) These people bear the liars and deceivers beautifully, as they refuse the knowledge of the truth, and they hate and persecute those who tell them the truth of God’s Word.

They enter in vain debates, and insist on things that they cannot understand, and finally find out that they are the same as those old heresies similar to the Ebionites, and just like them, they suffer shipwreck in regard to their faith. Their house of faith is destroyed, as they didn’t build it on the Rock, JESUS CHRIST.

Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ

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Religious Movements / Seventh Day Adventists

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One Response to Early Church Fathers – About the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day

  1. soldierofChrist777 says:

    Very interesting post, brother. God bless you for your work.

    This is actually quite clear to many people who have studied the history of the early days of the Church. It’s only most of the Sabbatarians today who cling to the false idea that it was the “Roman Catholic Church” that was responsible for switching the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest to Sunday.

    The writings you quoted above were written way before the time that this alleged “change” took place, and, thus, show that the Sabbatarians are wrong concerning what they like to claim out of ignorance.

    And even if the “Roman Catholic Church” today is proud of claiming that it changed the Sabbath to Sunday, this still means nothing, since (besides the fact that what the “Roman Catholic Church” boasts of is historically false) we actually disagree that the Sabbath has changed. It’s just that we no longer have a reason to observe it (since we are under the New Covenant), while we look to the Lord’s Day as the day on which the Lord rose from the dead, and thus, we sanctify the Lord on this day. Not out of rebellion (as Sabbatarians falsely accuse us of), but out of love for the Lord and out of respect for His Word and His commandments.

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