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Today, most churches keep worship on Sunday, calling it “Sunday service”. Sabbath is lesser known, and even for people who have heard about it, the exact origin and significance of it are usually unclear. This is because, during the long history of Christianity, this law of God was suppressed, changed, and eventually, forgotten by us.

 

The Sabbath Day Was Banned

In A.D. 135, the Roman Empire issued a ban against the Sabbath. Why did the Romans ban the worship day of one of its colonies, namely Israel, at that time?

 

1) Temporary Ban against the Sabbath

As the Roman Empire conquered many nations in the Mediterranean region, many religions of different races went under their rule and, subsequently, changed to adapt to their new central government. However, the Jews constantly triggered concerns from the Romans as they refused to worship the Roman Emperor or give offerings to the empire. This was one of the reasons for conflicts.

Around A.D. 40, the Romans set up a statue of the emperor in the church in Egypt. However, the Jews were against this act and started a riot. This resulted in the temporary ban of the keeping of Sabbath.

2) Continued Strifes

The disputes between the Roman government and the Jews continued. In A.D. 66-73, the First Jewish-Roman War occurred. Also known as the Great Revolt, it was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews against the Roman Empire1). In A.D. 115-117, the second rebellion known as Kitos War happened2), and the third was Bar Kokhba’s Revolt during A.D. 132-1363).

Afterwards, the Romans drove the Jews out of Jerusalem and started building many pagan shrines there. Around that period, the name of Jerusalem was changed to “Aelia Capitolina” and Judea, “Philistine”; and the Temple of Jerusalem was turned into a site that worshipped Jupiter4).

 

3) Ban against the Sabbath

The continuous rebellions deepened the hatred between the Roman Empire and the Jews. To break up their unity, the Romans issued a ban on the Sabbath day in A.D. 135 to prevent the Jews from gathering together5).

Meanwhile, this action against the Jews had a greater impact on the Christians instead. Even though Christianity and Judaism were different religions, the Romans didn’t make much distinction between the two as both kept the Sabbath and both worshipped the same, one God. Christianity was taken as a denomination of Judaism, especially since many Christians were Jews at that time. Hence, the Christians were also prohibited from gathering on the Sabbath. Under such circumstances, the Jews started having secret gatherings among the family. The Christians, on the other hand, could not do so as they had to gather around a leader who could teach them the Bible. Finally, they were driven into holding secret meetings.

The Sabbath Day Was Persecuted

1) Rumours

According to the Law of the Twelve Tables issued by the Roman empire, “no person shall hold meetings in the City at night”6). This made Christians look impure for gathering on the Sabbath. Consequently, all kinds of rumours were laid on them.

Eusebius, “The Ecclesiastical History” 

Figure 1. Rumours pertaining to the early day Christians, recorded in the book “The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources”7).

2) Being Driven Out

As such, they were rejected and shunned by their friends, and could not even do daily work.

The Great Events by Famous Historians

Figure 2. Sufferings of the saints recorded in A letter from Gaul, from the book “The Great Events by Famous Historians”8).

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Christians gather at Catacombs to avoid persecution by Roman

 

Sabbath was the only comfort in their hard lives and the steps towards the kingdom of heaven. In the early days, keeping the Sabbath required great endurance to the point of death.

The Christians started gathering in catacombs, which were public underground burial places, and they kept worship there. However, even in such a situation, they could not even feel relieved there. That was because they had to be ready to flee from Roman soldiers anytime.

As time passed by, the Christians started growing more and more weary. When forced to worship Roman gods in shrines, most of them worshiped to survive. Some fled to mountains and lived ascetic lives. Many who were bounded to their physical lives were weighted between faith and reality.

The Sabbath Day Was Changed

1) Dialecticians: Mentioned “Sunday” to Win the Favour of the Emperor

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Justin Martyr

In around A.D. 150, there was a group of people who actively defended Christianity in Rome. They were the Dialecticians (Christians, former philosophers, who spoke on behalf of Christianity).

One prominent figure was Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165). He mentioned that the Sabbath of the Jews and that of the Christians are different, and that it was unfair for the Christians to be persecuted due to the Sabbath day.

In his apology to the Roman Emperor Pius on behalf of the Christians, he mentioned a few times “Sunday,” the day of the Sun which the Emperor was fond of. What was the reason for mentioning “Sunday”? Justin expected to win the favour of the Roman emperor and citizens by emphasizing “Sunday”, the worship day of the Sun. Justin drew the line between Sunday observance and Christianity based on the fact that the creation of the world began on the first day of the week, and then, also, that Jesus rose on that day. However, such ways of justification are non-biblical. Moreover, the roots of Sunday worship are clearly from paganism, and not from the Bible.

Figure 3. Record of the origin of the Sunday worship in the book “Truth Matters”9).

2) Gnostics: Depreciation of Sabbath to Justify Their Own View

At that time, there was a mixed religion: Gnosticism.

Gnosticism, A Mixed Religion

Gnosticism = Mystery Religion of Babylon + Mithraism of Persia + Philosophy of Greece + Oriental View of the World + Christianity = A Mixed Religion

The gnostics separated the god of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament; they considered the god of the Old Testament as an evil god who created the heavens and the earth, the materialistic world, and Jesus as a good saviour.

They insisted that the way to be saved is not by practising the law of the Old Testament, but by faith.

Religion in Social Conflict

Figure 4. Christianity went through a lot of influence from other cultures and philosophies during the history, “Religion in Social Conflict” 10).

One famous Gnostic was Marcion of Sinope (A.D. 85-160). He regarded the Sabbath day as an abolished law and cursed it.

Ecclesiasticus II: Orthodox Icons, Saints, Feasts and Prayer

Figure 5. Marcion had a very different belief on the Old Testament and the Sabbath, as seen in the book “Ecclesiasticus II: Orthodox Icons, Saints, Feasts and Prayer” 11).

Marcion actively insisted that they should celebrate a festival on “Sunday,” instead of the “Sabbath day,” since Jesus, the good Savior, was resurrected on Sunday.

3) Sunday Accepted as an Exit Out of Misery

The church which accepted Sunday was the church in Rome. They encouraged people to keep Sunday instead of the Sabbath.

Figure 6. Record of how Sabbath was forcefully changed to Sunday worship in the book “The Sabbath in Scripture and History”12).

The Christians were sad and hungry on the Sabbath day, but Sunday was like a day of festivals. Sunday seemed like an exit for the Christians who had been suffering from long persecutions. They began to think that it was not necessary to insist only on keeping the Sabbath and to believe God in such a difficult way.

4) Blurring of Barriers Between Christians and Sun-god Worshipers

As more and more kept Sunday, both Christians and sun-god worshipers inclusive; the barrier between the two gradually broke down. Some worshipers of the sun converted to Christianity but still visited shrines for the sun-god and some Christians prayed towards the sun.

The Early Church

Figure 7. Evidence of inclusion between Christianity and sun-god worship from the book “The Early Church”13).

The Christians forgot their identity, whether they believed in God or worshipped the sun god. This was the result of losing the Sabbath.

Many converts to Christianity thought Jesus was just one of the many gods of the Roman empire, and some regarded Jesus as the sun god. Thus, we started seeing circles being drawn around Jesus and the apostles.

 

The Sabbath Day Disappeared

In A.D. 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan to establish religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire. He even proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of Rome. What was the reason?

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Roman Emperor Constantion

During the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (A.D. 312), Constantine and Maxentius were vying for the position of the emperor of Rome. Despite the military strength of Constantine being very weak, he won a great victory. The secret was “Christianity”.

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Battle of the Milvian Bridge

According to legend, while Constantine was asleep, God appeared in his dream and told him to draw a sign, PX [Chi Rho], on the shields of his soldiers, promising him not to kill any soldier with the sign and to kill soldiers without the sign. At that time, many soldiers amongst his troops were Christians. It was likely that they won due to a raise in their morale due to the legend14).

After Constantine became emperor, he issued the Edict of Milan the following year, built churches, and exempted priests from taxes. Despite these pro-Christianity measures, it was hard to say that he had complete faith.

Miller’s Church History

Figure 8. Evidence suggesting the intention of Constantine embracing Christianity, from the “Miller’s Church History”15).

He witnessed the power of Christians in the battle and saw the possibility of uniting Rome through Christianity. Though he wanted to rule over Rome by taking advantage of Christianity, he could not ignore the pagans. He needed a policy which could embrace both religions, and he found his answer in “Sunday”.

First, he proclaimed it as the day to worship the sun so sun-worshippers could not reject to that. The Christians were just happy for the fact that they could gather together to worship.

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A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500

Figure 9. History indicates that Christianity was used by Constantine as a method to forge a more stable empire. From the book “A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500”16).

Constantine had great ambitions since he was young. To achieve power, he even stooped to various cruel means. For example, he accused his son Crispus and had him seized and put to death, let his wife die in an overheated bath, had his sister’s son flogged to death and her husband choked to death17). That was why most historians say he did not authorize Christianity with a pure heart.

Constantine also continued attending sacrifices of the sun god and carrying out duties as priest of sun god until he died. One title he had was “Pontifex Maximus”.

Afterwards, the church became secularized and controlled by the Roman emperor according to his will.

Some people say that it is meaningless to nitpick the difference between Sunday and Sabbath, but the difference between the two is not just simply a day. Sunday is made by men and has nothing to do with salvation. Sabbath, on the other hand, contains God’s bountiful blessings.

 

Toggle Footnotes
1)   "The Great Revolt." The Great Revolt (66 - 70 CE). N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
2)   Malamat, Abraham, and Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson. A History of the Jewish People. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1976. 330. Print.
3)   W. Eck, The Bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View, pp. 87–88.
4)   Freund, Richard A. Digging through the Bible: Modern Archaeology and the Ancient Bible. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. 125. Print.
5)   "The Bar-Kokhba Revolt." The Bar-Kokhba Revolt 132-135 CE). N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
6)   Prof. John P. Adams, Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures. "THE TWELVE TABLES." THE TWELVE TABLES. California State University Northridge, 10 June 2009. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.
7)   Janowski, Bernd, and Peter Stuhlmacher. The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2004. 242-43. Print. 8
8)   Johnson, Rossiter, ed. The Great Events by Famous Historians. N.p.: Library of Alexandira, n.d. Print.
9)   Veith, Walter J. Truth Matters. Delta, BC: Amazing Discoveries, 2002. 220. Print.
10)   L.K., Solomon. "Historical Records of Turning From the Faith." Religion in Social Conflict. N.p.: n.p., 2013. 73. Print.
11)   Dragas, Georgios D. "Chapter V." Ecclesiasticus II: Orthodox Icons, Saints, Feasts and Prayer. Rollinsford (N.H.): Orthodox Research Institute, 2005. N. pag. Print.
12)   Strand, Kenneth A., and Daniel André Augsburger. The Sabbath in Scripture and History. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Association, 1982. 138. Print.
13)   Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. London: Penguin, 1993. Print.
14)   White, Cynthia. The Emergence of Christianity: Classical Traditions in Contemporary Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011. 94. Print.
15)   Miller, Andrew. "Chapter 10." Miller's Church History: From First to Twentieth Century. N.p.: Scripture Truth Book, 1963. N. pag. Print.
16)   Wand, John William Charles. History of the Early Church to Ad 500. Place of Publication Not Identified: Routledge, 2016. 79. Print.
17)   Pohlsander, Hans A. "8." The Emperor Constantine. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2004. 57. Print.