4th edition



In this chapter

(312-313)... Worship of the heavenly bodies the oldest form of idolatry
(313-314)... Names of the days of the week
(314-315)... Prominence of Sunday
(315-316)... Condition of Pagan Rome
(316-318)... Rome’s Form of Worship
(318-320)... Reaction of Paganism and Christianity on Each Other
(320-321)... Pagan Influences on the Christian Forms of Worship
(321-323)... Patriotism and Expediency as Factors for the Change of the Day
(323-324)... The Greek apologists
(324-326)... Justin Martyr
(326-328)... A “new law,” and a Perpetual Sabbath
(328-333)... Reasons for the Sunday Festival
(333-335)... Irenaeus’ View of the Decalogue-- and the Easter controversy
(335-337)... Eusebius’s record of Irenaeus’ Sunday Position
(337-338)... The First Instance of Papal Assumption
(338-341)... Summary
(341).......... Rome again Conquers the Christian World


The worship of the sun is one of the oldest forms of idolatry, and it is found among all the leading heathen nations of antiquity. But the adoration of the heavenly bodies did not originate as the result of any divine command, or from a sense of true piety’ it was rather a perversion of the truth that God alone is the Creator of all things and that He only is to be worshiped. In adoring the heavenly bodies, the heathen worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. 1

From the earliest times, God warned his people against this sort of idolatry. 2 The following quotation from the book of Job clearly shows that the worship of the heavenly bodies was known already in his day:--

“If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above. “ 3

From the Portable Comments we take the following explanation of this passage:--

“If I beheld the sun[as an object of worship] when [ because] it shined, or the moon [because she is] walking in brightness; etc. Sabaism (from tsaba, the heavenly hosts) was the earliest form of false worship. God is hence called in contradistinction “Lord of Sabaoth,”. the sun, moon, and stars, the brightest objects in nature, and seen everywhere, were supposed to be visible representatives of the invisible God. They had no temples, but were worshiped on high places and roofs of houses. Exe. 8:16; Deut. 4:19; 2 Kings 23:5, 11.
The Hebrew here for ‘sun’ is light. Probably light was worshiped as the emanation from God, before its embodiments, the sun, etc. This worship prevailed in Chaldea; wherefore job’s exemption from the idolatry of his neighbours was the more exemplary. Our “Sun-day, Monday, or Moon-day, bear traces of Sabaism.”

The early sun-worship mentioned in the Divine Record is attested by innumerable representations in the temples and on the monuments of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Phoenicia, Greece, and Rome. Indeed, “Pharaoh,” the title of all Egyptian rulers, means nothing less than the “sun,” it being in reality “Phra,” from Ra., the Egyptian sun-god; and the winged disk seen over the heads of many of the ancient monarchs of that country, was a symbol of the sun. Ra, Isis, Osiris, Baal, Mithras, Hercules, Apollo, and Jupiter are all heathen deities of the sun and light.


As the heavenly bodies were held in such high regard, it was but natural that this esteem should find expression in naming the days of the week after these deities, the gods most highly honoured occupying the first place. As the sun, from which light and heat emanated, was the most prominent and powerful object in the kingdom of nature, it was accorded the first rank: “Sunday was the first day of the week in the East from all antiquity.” 4

The Sun, Moon, mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn were the seven deities to whom the Chaldeans dedicated the days of the week. God distinguished the common days of the week by simply giving their numerical order; but upon the seventh day, on which He had rested and which He had blessed and sanctified, He bestowed the title,”the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” thus setting apart the seventh day of the week, hallowed and honoured of Him, and distinguishing it as the Lord’s day.

The heathen, on the other hand, who had gods many and lords many, bestowed upon each day of the week the name of one of their gods, dedicating the first day to the sun, as the source of light and life. The Anglo-Saxons dedicated Tuesday to Tuisco, Wednesday to Wodon, Thursday to Thor, and Friday to Frea or Frigga. Thus they partially broke the link with planetary “gods“, however, the “day of the sun“ was retained.


Verstegan speaks thus of the Germans:

“The most ancient Germans being pagans, and having appropriated their first day of the week to the peculiar adoration of the sun, whereof that day doth yet in our English tongue retain the name of Sunday.” 5

And then, of the Saxon ancestors, he remarks:--

“Unto the day dedicated unto the special adoration of the idol of the sun, they gave the name of Sunday, as much as to say the sun’s day, or the day of the sun. This idol was placed in a temple, and there adored and sacrificed unto, for that they believed that the sun in the firmament did with or in this idol correspond and co-operate.” 6 Sunday was, indeed, “the wild solar holiday of all pagan times,” as the North British Review 7 fitly styles it in a labored attempt to justify the observance of Sunday by the Christian church.


Having thus shown the prominent position that sun-worship and the sun-day occupied in heathenism, we will next turn our eyes to the condition of paganism in the Roman empire, and in Rome itself, as well as to the religious attitude of her many philosophers at the very time when Christianity came “forth conquering, and to conquer.”

Gibbon gives us the desired information:--

“The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful,” “The deities of a thousand groves and a thousand streams possessed, in peace, their local and respective influence.” “The visible powers of nature, the planets, and the elements, were the same throughout the universe.” “The Greek, the Roman, and the barbarian, as they met before their respective altars, easily persuaded themselves that, under various names and with various ceremonies, they adored the same deities.” “Rome gradually became the common temple of her subjects; and the freedom of the city was bestowed on all the gods of mankind. 8 How ready the heathen were to deify man is best seen from Acts 14:11-12. “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius.“ But the change wrought in the pagan world by the progress of Christianity, Harnack thus sets forth: “After the national religion and the religious sense generally in cultured circles had been all but lost in the age of Cicero and Augustus, there is noticeable in the Graeco-Roman world from the beginning of the second century a revival of religious feeling which embraced all classes of society and appears, especially from the middle of that century to have increased from decennium to decennium. . .The ideas of repentance and of expiation and healing of the soul became of special importance, and consequently such Oriental cults came to the front as required the former and guaranteed the latter. . . Apotheosis came into currency. The old state religion first attained its highest and most powerful expression in the worship of the emperor (the emperor glorified as ’Lord and our God,’ as ’present and corporeal God,’ the Antinous cult, etc.) . . .That was the import of the message preached by the Cynics and the Stoics, that the truly wise man is Lord, Messenger of God and God upon the earth.” 9


This explains why during this very time the Oriental cults, consisting chiefly in sun-worship, were introduced among, and mingled with, the sun-worship of the Roman Jupiter. In course of time the worship of Isis, Osiris, Mithra, and Apollo outshone the Roman Jupiter, and became, by the beginning of the third century, the favorite deities of the Roman emperors, some of whom even claimed to be the incarnation of the sun-god.

Paganism had its pontifex maximus, which was applied to the deified Roman emperors from the days of Caligual, who, according to Seneca, 10 had his toe kissed. Its fine temples, though in ruins are still objects of admiration; and Grecian art, in its golden age, adorned them with innumerable statues of the various deities. In honor o f the gods, smaller sanctuaries were also created in grottoes, on the hilltops, or in prominent thoroughfares.

From the days of Jeremiah, paganism had its “queen of heaven,” unto whom were offered cakes of wheat and incense. 11

Each country, each province, each town, yea, even each family, had its images of tutelary deities. Bloody and bloodless sacrifices were offered by priests in showy attire, to appease for sin. Ascetic tendencies and stoicism manifested themselves in the heathen world, and virgins were chosen to keep the sacred fire ever burning.

We find lavers of holy water at the entrances of the heathen temples, and offerings were sprinkled therewith. Incense was burned to the gods, and votary gifts were deposited at their altars, for supposed healing. Mysteries of all sorts were invented to captivate the senses of the worshipers, and showy processions were held. Innumerable holidays, commemorating certain events, and honouring certain deities, were introduced. Midsummer and midwinter day, when the sun is at its zenith and at its nadir, were in especial esteem. Human reason and philosophy did their utmost to produce a system of religion which would satisfy the cravings of the masses.

As Justin Martyr refers 12 to the Mithraic sun worship, we shall give a brief description of it. Mithra was the Persian embodiment of light, and the god of truth. Its worship spread from Persia to Babylon, where it absorbed Chaldaic elements. At an early date soldiers and slaves brought it to Rome. Some Mithra inscriptions date from the time of Trajan and Hadrian. First favored by the lower classes, Mithraism spread upward with great rapidity. Grottoes, natural or artificial, were its sanctuaries. The grotto at Spoleto has three niches for Mithra and his two torch bearers, and in front of them there is an altar with the significant inscription, “Soli invicto Mitra sacrum” (sacred to the invincible sun Mithra) It had, in common with Christianity, its belief in a mediator, in the resurrection, the lustrations, the sacred meal of bread and water. On the day of the sun the hymn, or iescht, of Mithra was recited, and prayers were addressed to him and to his assistant genii. 13


But while paganism did everything in its power to stop the victorious advance of the Christian religion by the creation of a counterpart to it, were there not at work similar tendencies in the church to supplant the more easily conquered paganism? We have already found in the struggle with Gnosticism that while the church repudiated it, it soon afterward became a part of her own system.

The same holds true in the controversy between the early church and philosophy. Scarcely a century after Paul condemned philosophy, philosophers were the teachers of the church, and defended the church on philosophical principles, as Schaff thus states:--

“From the time of Justin Martyr, the Platonic philosophy continued to exercise a direct and indirect influence upon Christian theology, though not so unrestrainedly and naively as in his case. We can trace it especially in Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and even in St. Augustine, who confessed that it kindled in him an incredible fire. In the scholastic period it gave way to the Aristotelian philosophy, which was better adapted to clear, logical statements. But Platonism maintained its influence over Maximus, John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas, and other schoolmen…The Platonic philosophy offered many points of resemblance to Christianity.” 14

But while Gnosticism and pagan philosophy had their respective influence on Christianity, we find that the rites and ceremonies of paganism exercised none the less influence upon it, as Mosheim thus concludes in the testimony from which we have already quoted:--

“Lastly, not to be tedious; whoever considers that the Christians were collected from among the Jews and from the pagan nations, who were accustomed, from their earliest years, to various ceremonies and superstitious rites; and that the habits of early life are very hard to be laid aside, will perceive that it would have been little short of a miracle if nothing corrupting and debasing had found its way into the Christian church. For example, nearly all the people of the East, before the Christian era, were accustomed to worship with their faces directed toward the sun rising. For they all believed that God, whom they supposed to resemble light, or rather to be light, and whom they included within certain bounds, had his residence in that part of the heavens where the sun rises. Those of them, indeed, who became Christians rejected this error, but the custom that originated from it, which was very ancient and universally prevalent, they retained. Nor even to this age has its abrogation been found practicable.”
“A large part, therefore, of the Christian observances and institutions, even in this century [the second], had the aspect of the pagan mysteries.” 15


As already in the second century “ a large part of the Christian observances and institutions had the aspect of the pagan mysteries,” the mighty counter-influence of paganism on Christianity at an early date is here admitted without question. And not only did the Christian observances and institutions have the aspect of the pagan mysteries of sun worship, but the very attitude of sun-worshipers toward the rising sun, was retained in worshiping the true God.

How extensive and comprehensive the Christian worship toward the east was, Dr. Dodgson shows in a note to Tertullian’s Apology, chapter 16:--

“Christians prayed to the east, as the type of Christ the Sun of Righteousness (Clem, Al, Strom, vii, 7, p, 856, Damasciv, 12), whence also in baptism they turned to the east to confess Christ (S.Jer, in Am. vi,14. Ambros. De iis qui initiantur c. 2) And their churches were toward the east (Tert,c.Valent.c.3. Const. .Ap.ii,57), so that other positions were rare exceptions.” “It is instanced as an apostolic tradition by S. Basil, I,c.,and so called in the Quaestt. Ad Orthod.I,c. Origen (Hom,5, in Num) instances it as a rite in universal practise.” 16

Still more, the day annually celebrated in commemoration of the resurrection bears, in its very name, the evience of pagan influence. That this is so, and how naturally this transformation from the pagan to the Christian celebration came about, is thus set forth by Schaff:--

“The English Easter (…German Ostern) is connected with east and sunrise, and is akin to {Greek word] oriens, aurora.. . .The comparison of sunrise and the natural spring with the new moral creation in the resurrection of Christ, and the transfer of the celebration of Ostara, the old German divinity of the rising, health-bringing light, to the Christian Easter festival, was easy and natural, because all nature is a symbol of spirit, and the heathen myths are dim presentiments and carnal anticipations of Christian truths.” 17

Does not this statement, setting forth the ease with which the transfer was made from the pagan Ostra, the annual festival of sunrise and natural spring, to the Christian Easter in commemoration of the beginning of the new life through Christ’s resurrection, clearly demonstrate how easy and natural it was to change the pagan holiday dedicated to the sun into the so-called Christian holy day of the Sun of Righteousness? Were not the heathen myths also applicable in this case as “dim presentiments and carnal anticipations of Christian truths”? That this transformation was made on this basis is thus admitted in a statement found in the North British Review, already referred to”--


That very day was the Sunday of their heathen neighbours and respective countrymen; and patriotism gladly united with expediency in making it at once their Lord’s day and their Sabbath. . . If the authority of the church is to be ignored altogether by Protestants, there is no matter; because opportunity and common expediency are surely argument enough for so ceremonial a change as the mere day of the week for the observance of the rest and holy convocation of the Jewish Sabbath. That primitive church, in fact, was shut up to the adoption of the Sunday, until it became established and supreme, when it was too late to make another alteration; and it was no irreverent nor undelightful thing to adopt it, inasmuch as the first day of the week was their own high day at any rate; so that their compliance and civility were rewarded by the redoubled sanctity of their quiet festival.” 18

D.B.Byers, in the “Christian Sabbath,” attests the same fact, as follows:--

“When the gospel came to our ancestors in Europe, it found them paying their devout homage to the sun on the day on which the Christians worshiped most devoutly the God of heaven. The day was all right, and when the Sun of Righteousness displaced the solar sun, the idolater became a Christian and worshiped God in the beauty of holiness. 19

Even church historians, writing in favor of Sunday, have to admit the possibility of this being the case, as the following quotation will show:--

“Sunday was celebrated as the weekly festival of the resurrection. But perhaps the Roman sun-day (dies solis) has aided in bringing this about on the basis of Christ himself being the light of the world. It was celebrated as a day of joy, without any regard whatever to the Sabbath rest of the Jews.” 20

The very motives prompting such a change are thus clearly set forth by a London Anglican rector, T.H. Morer, in his “Discourses on the Lord’s Day,” as early as 1701:--

“It is not to be denied but we borrow the name of this day from the ancient Greeks and Romans, and we allow that the old Egyptians worshiped the sun, and as a standing memorial of their veneration, dedicated this day to him. And we find by the influence of their examples, other nations, and among them the Jews themselves, doing him homage; yet these abuses did not hinder the Fathers of the Christian church simply to repeal, or altogether lay by, the day or its name. But only to sanctify and improve both, as they did also the pagan temples polluted before with idolatrous services, and other instances wherein those good men were always tender to work any other change than what was evidently necessary, and in such things as were plainly inconsistent with the Christian religion; so that Sunday being the day on which the Gentiles solemnly adored the planet, and called it Sunday, partly from its influence on that day especially, and partly in respect to its divine body (as they conceived it), the Christians thought fit to keep the same day and the same name of it, that they might no appear causelessly peevish, and by that means hinder the conversion of the Gentiles, and bring a greater prejudice than might be otherwise taken against the gospel. 21


As our investigation thus far has not furnished any clear and reliable testimony from the Fathers as to the origin of Sunday, except that it is merely of human origin, the evidences for this gradual transformation in the manner already described, must be produced from the writings of the ante Nicene church Fathers, covering the period from A.D. 150 to 311.

Schaff thus introduces this period:--

“After the intense commotion of the apostolic age, there was a breathing spell.” “Then came the great literary conflict of the apologists and doctrinal polemics in the second half of the same century; and toward the middle of the third the theological schools of Alexandria, and northern Africa laying the foundation the one for the theology o the Greek, the other for that of the Latin Church”.
“The ante-Nicene age . . .is the natural transition from the apostolic age to the Nicene age, yet leaving behind many important truths of the former (especially the Pauline doctrine) which were to be derived and explored in future ages. We can trace in it the elementary forms of the Catholic creed, organization, and worship, and also the germs of nearly all the corruptions of Greek and Roman Christianity.” 22

This introduction corroborates what we have already inferred, that “leaving behind many important truths of the apostolic age,” these church Fathers laid the foundation of the future church containing “the germs of nearly all the corruptions of Greek and Roman Christianity.”


Most noted among the Greek apologists of this period, was Justin Martyr, who addressed his first apology to Emperor Antoninus Pius about A.D. 147. Eusebius calls him a “genuine lover of the true philosophy,” who “in the garb of a philosopher proclaimed the divine Word and defended the faith by his writings” 23
As the theology of this philosopher mostly concerns us, we will let Schaff give us the necessary information:

“As to the sources of his religious knowledge, Justin derived it partly from the Holy Scriptures, partly from the living church tradition. He cites most frequently and generally from memory, hence often inaccurately, the Old Testament prophets (in the Septuagint), and the ‘Memoirs’ of Christ, or ‘Memoirs by the Apostles,’ as he calls the canonical Gospels, without naming the authors. . .
“Justin’s exegesis of the Old Testament is apologetic, typological, and allegorical throughout. . .He had no knowledge of Hebrew, and freely copied the blunders and interpolations of the Septuagint. He had no idea of grammatical or historical interpretation. He used also two or three times the Sibylline Oracles and Hystaspes for genuine prophecies, and appeals to the Apocryphal Acts of Pilate as an authority. We should remember, however, that he is no more credulous, inaccurate, and uncritical than his contemporaries and the majority of the Fathers.
“Like all the ante-Nicene writers, he had no clear insight into the distinction between the Old Testament and the New, between the law and the gospel, nor any proper conception of the depth of sin and redeeming grace, and the justifying power of faith. His theology is legalistic and ascetic rather than evangelical and free. He retained some heathen notions from his former studies. . . Christianity was to Justin, theoretically, the true philosophy, and, practically a new law of holy living and dying. . . He may be called, in a loose sense, a Christian Platonist. He was also influenced by Stoicism. He thought that the philosophers of Greece had borrowed their light from Moses and the prophets.
“Socrates was a Christian, as well as Abraham, though he did not know it. None of the Fathers or schoolmen has so widely thrown open the gates of salvation. He was the broadest of broad churchmen.” 24

This statement from Schaff shows several striking resemblances between the theology of the Gnostic Barnabas and Justin, the philosopher. Both have the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures in common, both have no clear insight into the relations existing between the old and the new covenant, both refer to the new law, and therefore both must bring forth a new day.


Trypho advised Justin, in chapter 8, to observe the Sabbath and “do all things commanded in the law;” in chapter 10 he adds, “You observe no festivals Sabbaths,” This was the golden moment for Justin to bring forth the Lord’s day of the new covenant and to produce the command of Christ or the apostles, if not from Scripture, then from unwritten tradition, of which the Gnostics had provided such and abundant supply, But let us observe Justin’s reply, in chapter 12:--

“The new law requires you to keep a 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, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true Sabbaths of God.” Instead of a Sunday command of Christ and the apostles, there is a reference made to “the new law,” first brought forward by pseudo-Barnabus. This new law demands a perpetual Sabbath, kept by not sinning, and on this Sabbath one should not be idle. As no such law can be found in all the Bible, it must come from without. And in this inference we do not go amiss, as the following extract from Harnack will show.-- “Tatian preached this renunciation in a specially powerful manner. There is no need to prove that no remains of Judeo-Christianity are to be recognized in these ideas about the new law. It is not Judeo -Christianity that lies behind the Christianity and doctrines of the apologists, but Greek philosophy (Platonic metaphysics, Logos doctrine of the Stoics, Platonic and Stoic ethics), the Alexandrine-Jewish apologetics, the maxims of Jesus, and the religious speech of the Christian churches. “ 25

But how about the seventh-day Sabbath enjoined in the fourth commandment? Justin replies in chapter 18,22:--

“For we, too, would observe the fleshly circumcision and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you; namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts. You see that the heavens are not idle, nor do they observe the Sabbath. Continue as you were born. For if before Abraham there was no need o circumcision, nor of the Sabbaths, nor of feasts, nor of offerings before Moses; so now in like manner there is no need of them, since Jesus Christ, the Son of God was by the determinate counsel of God, born of a virgin of the seed of Abraham without sin.”

We can see form the preceding what estimate Justin placed on the Sabbath, which he identified with the ceremonial law. In his mind there was no Sabbath observance before Moses; consequently there is none since Christ. Harnack give the following three estimates which Justin placed on the ceremonial law:-- “(1) That the ceremonial law was a pedagogic measure of God with reference to a stiff-necked people prone to idolatry .
(2) That it--like circumcision--was to make the people conspicuous for the execution of judgment, according to the divine appointment.
(3) That in the ceremonial legal worship of the Jews is exhibited the special depravity and bigotry of the nation.” 26

He inadvertently alludes to the keeping of the ten commandments as the performance of “the eternal and natural acts of righteousness.” We see in this acknowledgment, as Harnack fitly remarks, “the beginning of a compromise, in so far as a distinction was made between the moral law of nature continued in the Old Testament -- the Decalogue -- and the ceremonial law,”

On the other hand, the philosophy adduced, “that the heavens are not idles,” not only an argument against the Jews, but against the creator himself, who rested on the Sabbath in the beginning, and enjoined the Sabbath observance upon man in a perpetual and universal command. But we can see a slight change indicated. First the new law is not defined. Then, there is a suggested reference later to the ten commandments being the moral law, but without the observance of the Sabbath. Having thus cleared up the position of Justin, and finding that he believed in a spiritual, perpetual Sabbath, we are now ready to question from his “First Apology” his full statement about Sunday:---


“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the writings of the apostles or the prophets are read, as much as time will give leave; then, when the reader has ceased, the bishop makes a sermon, 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 bishop in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution of the consecrated elements, and partaken of by all that are present, 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 bishop, who relieves 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. Upon Sunday we all assemble, that being the first day in which God set himself to work upon the dark void in order to make the world, and in which Jesus Christ our Savior rose again form 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.” 27

This is the first instance in which the day of the sun is plainly mentioned as a day of Christian worship, as far as Rome is concerned. Something over a century has passed since the day of Christ; the apology itself bears no date, but it is generally placed at about 147 A.D. In this Apology, and in fact throughout all his writings, Justin uses everywhere the heathen designations for the day. Thus this new day of Christian worship appears as the day of the sun, a very significant fact. The reasons for this assembly are, “being the first day in which God set himself to work upon the dark void in order to make the world, and in which Jesus Christ our Saviour rose again from the dead,” Thus the day of the sun is set forth as the first day of light and of life, but these old heathen motives for distinguishing the first day of the week as the day of the sun and life-giving power, appear in the Christian setting -- this life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Nothing whatever is here said of any divine commandment to observe this day. Even the idea of a memorial would include a twofold memorial, of the creation of light in the beginning and of the resurrection of Christ four thousand years later. Bishop J Taylor fittingly replies to this:

“The first of these looks more like an excuse than a just reason; for if anything of the creation were made the cause of a Sabbath, it ought to be the end, not the beginning; it ought to be the rest, not the first part of the work; it ought to be that which God assigned, not that which man should take by way of after-justification.” 28

The Hauck-Herzog Cyclopedia thus lays stress on the two reasons given here for the observance of the first day of the week:--

Justin is the first one who designates this day as Sunday, and justifies this designation ’day of Helios with the twofold reference to the breaking forth of light on the first day of creation (Genesis 1), and to the going forth of Christ (Sun of Righteousness cf. Mal, 3:20 with Luke 1:78) from the dark night of the grave.” 29

But in chapter 24 Justin sets forth a new reason for the superiority of the holy day of the new law over the rest day of the old, strange as it may seem:--

“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. . . The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of 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.”

The philosopher seems entirely to overlook the fact that the command of circumcision reads: “In the eight day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised,” 30 It does not read, each eighth day of the week, but the eighth day after the birth of the male child, which might be on any day of the week; so that this rite was performed even on the Sabbath day. 31

In summing up Justin Martyr, we find attested what even Schaff himself had to admit: “He had no clear insight into the distinction between the Old Testament and the New, between the law and the gospel.” For him, consequently, the law and the Sabbath were both abolished. The day of the sun came in as a voluntary assembly day for prayer and worship. He accounts for its superiority by stating that it is the first day of light, the day on which Christ arose form the dead, and that it possesses, as eighth day, mysterious import, and that this mysterious import of this eighth day of the week is derived from the fact that the children of Israel were commanded, “on account of the wickedness of their hearts,” to circumcise their children on the eighth day after their birth.

Pseudo-Barnabas, Gnostic, and Justin Martyr, philosopher, thus have in common the new law, and the eighth day and with it the mysteries which only a philosopher or a Gnostic could fathom. To this may be added the facts that he everywhere tries to find the sign of the cross, and wants to have it made on every occasion; that , in chapter 61, he calls baptism “illumination,” and the baptized, “illuminated,” terms never applied in this way in the Bible, but occurring in the initiatory ceremonies of the pagan mysteries. He also mentions the bread and the wine mixed with water, and the elements of the Lord’s supper being carried to absent persons. While Barnabas introduces this eighth day by rejecting the historical connection between ancient Israel and the people of God, Justin slightly weakens the charge, spiritualises away the Sabbath, and introduces the sun’s day as a voluntary ordinance on its own independent grounds, good or bad as they may be.


Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, 178 A.D. and, in connection with him, the Easter controversy next claim our attention. In his own writings no mention is made of the first day of the week, but such mention is found in two statements concerning him.
His position on the law and the Sabbath he defines in his books against heresies, in which he chiefly refutes the Gnostics, and demonstrates the oneness between the two covenants. He teaches that God gave to Israel in the Decalogue the natural precepts which he implanted in the heart of Adam and the righteous patriarchs from the beginning:

“For God at the first, indeed, warning them by means of natural precepts, which from the beginning he had implanted in mankind, that is, by means of the Decalogue (which, if anyone does not observe, he has no salvation), did then demand nothing more of them.” 32 When Israel made a golden calf, God added to this the ceremonial law, “calling them to the things of primary importance by means of those which were secondary; that is, to things that are real, by means of those that are typical; and by things temporal, to eternal; and by the carnal to the spiritual; and by the earthly to the heavenly.” 33 Christ’s advent, while removing the ceremonial law, only extends the Decalogue; “Preparing man for this life, the Lord himself did speak in his own person to all alike the words of the Decalogue: and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently with us, receiving, by means of his advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation.” 34

The Sabbath, on the other hand, he spiritualizes and sees in it simply as a sign of the future kingdom of God:

“For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded.” “This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come,” 35
“Moreover, the Sabbath of God (requitio Dei), that is, the kingdom, was as it were, indicated by created things; in which (kingdom) the man who shall have persevered in serving God (Deo assistere)M shall, in a state of rest, partake of God’s table. And that man was not justified by these things, but that they were given as a sign to the people, this fact shows,--that Abraham himself, without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths, ‘believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.’” “But the Sabbaths taught that we should continue day by day in God’s service,” 36

Although Irenaeus writes five books against the heresies, it is rather strange that he himself nowhere alludes to Sunday. But in a fragment ascribed to him, we find the following:--

“This (custom), of not bending the knee upon Sunday, is a symbol of the resurrection, through which we have been set free, by the grace of Christ, from sins, and from death, which has been put to death under him. Now this custom took its rise from apostolic times, as the blessed Irenaeus, the martyr and bishop of Lyons, declares in his treatise on Easter, in which he makes mention of Pentecost also; upon which (feast) we do not bend the knee, because it is of equal significance with the Lord’s day, for the reason already alleged concerning it.” 37

The Ante-Nicene Library makes the following important note on this:--

“Taken from a work (Quaes, et. Resp, ad Othod,) ascribed to Justin Martyr, but certainly written after Nicene council. It is evident that this is not an exact quotation from Irenaeus, but the summary of his words. The ‘Sunday’ here referred to must be Easter Sunday.”

Some unknown writer “after the Nicene council” says that Irenaeus declared that the custom of not kneeling on Sunday “took its rise from apostolic times,” It is the unknown writer who applies the term Lord’s day to Sunday, and not Irenaeus himself, and at the sem time this writer declares that Pentecost is of equal significance with Sunday.


The next statement we find in Eusebius, in connection with the great controversy as to the day on which Easter should be observed. Passover and Pentecost were important annual festival in ancient Israel as significant types of the great future events of redemption. As type met antitype, early Christianity, composed at first chiefly of Israelites, would voluntarily continue these festival, but in commemoration of facts accomplished, as the death of the Lord, his resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They would therein naturally follow the Jewish method of computation. The Passover lamb was to be eaten on the fourteenth of Nisan, without reference to the day of the week on which it fell; then followed the seven days of unleavened bread. 38
Now, it is a singular fact that “neither the Apostolic Fathers, nor Justin, nor the Didache mention any annual feast.” 39 These, as well as the so-called vigils (dies stationum) are supposed to have existed on the strength of later statements. As the events commemorated by Easter extended over several days, there was room for play-- whether the fourteenth should be chosen, when the Passover was eaten, or the first day, as the day of the resurrection. Again, whether they should partake of the Lord’s supper on the fourteenth after having fasted previously, or whether they should fast until the first day, and then take the Lord’s supper, was the question.

A number of the churches in the East, appealing to apostolic example, fasted until the close of the fourteenth, and celebrated the Passover at the beginning of the fifteenth, by having the communion and the love feast; but in some parts of the West, especially in the Roman Church, likewise appealing to an ancient custom, celebrated the death of Jesus on a Friday, and his resurrection always on a Sunday after the March full moon, fasting till Sunday and celebrating the communion on that day. Thus it happened that one part of Christianity was fasting and mourning over the death of Christ, while the other part was already rejoicing over his accomplished resurrection. This difference had already been discussed when the martyr bishop Polycarp of Smyrna visited Ancietus, bishop of Rome, between 150 and 133 A.D. But although they could not agree, they parted in peace, as far as Eusebiuss’ statement goes.


But some forty years later the Roman bishop Victor, thinking that he, being bishop of the capital of the Roman empire, had therefore the right to dictate to the other bishops, in an imperious tone required the churches in the East to abandon their practise, and follow the example of Rome. An Eastern synod considered his letter, and Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, in his answer to Victor, appealing to the example of Philip, of John, of Polycarp, and of other ancient bishops, winds up: “All these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith”. 40

Victor turned a deaf ear to this remonstrance,-- though it surely had apostolic tradition in its favor, if there be such a thing, -- branded the Eastern churches as heretical, and threatened to excommunicate them. Thus the first instance on record in which the bishop of Rome attempted to be the Pope over all the churches, was by an edict in behalf of Sunday. Bower calls this “the first essay of papal usurpation;” 41 And Dowling, “the earliest instance of papal assumption.” 42

This caused Irenaeus, as well as other bishops, though they agreed with min on the disputed point to reprove him for his unchristian conduct. In a letter to victor, he, after quoting Col. 2:16, says:--

“We keep the feasts, but in the leaven of malice, by tearing the church of God and observing what is outward in order to reject what is better, faith and charity. That such feasts are displeasing to the Lord, we have heard from the prophets.” 43

Now referring to this very controversy, Eusebius first states, in chapter 23, that all the bishops unanimously agreed “that the mystery of our Lord’s resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than the Lord’s day; and that on this day alone we should observe the close of the paschal fasts.” In the next chapter Eusebius represents Irenaeus as writing a letter to the same effect to the bishop of Rome. 44

Thus we have not the words of Irenaeus, A.D. 178, but the result of the synod held in his day, stated in the language of a church historian of the fourth cenury, and he uses at that time, for Sunday the title Lord’s day.

This whole controversy, which was one of the chief questions of the council of Nicaea, and really laid the foundation for the later division between the East and the West, contains some valuable lessons. First, that the so-called apostolic tradition is so uncertain a matter that as early as A.D. 150, differences of opinon arose about it; second, that some forty years later, Victor, the bishop of Rome, assumed to settle thses differences of tradition by the supposed exalted position of his office over the other bishops, and threatened to excommunicate the so-called heretics, though they could appeal to John and Philip as their authorities, while the others appeal to Peter and Paul.
While we have seen from the Fathers how Sunday was introduced as a voluntary human insitiution, we have here a plain indication of how the Sabbath of the Decalogue was forced out.


The first clear evidence that the first day of the week was used as an assembly day by the Christians we have found in the middle of the second century, where it appears under the heathen designation of “day of the sun,” or where it is called, as in the Bible, “the first day of the week,” The only new thing about it is the mixed use of the pagan and Bible terms. Its being employed as an assembly day is justified by the breaking forth of light on the first day of creation week and also on the resurrection morn, --reasons agreeable to both pagan and proselyte. The other argument adduced in its favor is the mysterious import of circumcision on the eighth day, the fallacy of which we have shown. It appears as a part of the “the new law,” or revision of the Decalogue, demanding a perpetual Sabbath, not of rest or of idleness, but of continual activity -- a very soothing doctrine to the Roman slave, to the mechanic, to the farmer, or to the official, if compared to the rest demanded in the law as it stands. There is not a word anywhere intimating that Christ or the apostles instituted the day, or that it is to be observed as the Sabbath. On the contrary, it appears as an independent, voluntary institution, closely associated with the pagan day of the sun.

Toward the close of the second century we find a controversy springing up between the East the West, as to whether Easter should always be celebrated on the first day of the week, or on the fixed day of the month (the fourteenth o Nisan), and whether the fasting should stop at the beginning of the seventh-day Sabbath, or at the commencement of Sunday. The Roman bishop appears as champion of the venerable day of the sun, and his chief instrument of warfare is excommunication, but he is thwarted in his efforts to force the East to conform to the usage of the West, and in the course of time this dispute ripens into open rupture between Constantinople and Rome.

Gnosticism, as a sect, is subdued; but its principles of a new and spiritual law and a new and spiritual Sabbath become the principles of the coming Catholic Church; it is on this very basis that the day of the sun creeps into the church as an honored day of worship. The strength of Judaism is also broken; its laws are no longer asserted to be of the devil; but the Catholic church assimilates from it all that she can to assist her in building up her claims to power, and to increase her pomp.


While paganism is putting forth every effort to revive, and especially to increase, the mysteries of the sun, and to press sun-worship to the front, Catholicism makes all these movements serve her cause. Indeed, the second century is the genesis of the Catholic church. Rome again conquers the world step by step -- but this time it is the Christian world. 45 -- --until we have a full reproduction of paganism in Christian garb, with the Gnostic system of interpretation, and a decrepit Jewish ritual, but with this one exception; that on her victorious banners we see emblazoned as the sign of her triumph over her opponents, and as he mark of her high authority, the significant sign of Sunday, the day of the origin of light.

1. Romans 1:25Return>

2. Deut. 4:19; 17:3Return>

3.Job 31:26-28Return>

4.Selden Sac. An., vol. I, p.221Return>

5. Verstegan’s Antiquites, London, 1628, p. 10Return>

6.Id., p. 68Return>

7.Vol. 18, p.409Return>

8.Gibbon’s Rome, chp. 2 pars. 2,3,7.Return>

9.“History of Dogma,” vol. I, chap. 2 pp. 116-119 Return>

10.De Benef. L., 2, 12 Return>

11.Jer. 7:18; 44:17, 25 Return>

12.“First Apology,” chp. 66 Return>

13.Gibbon, chap. 8. Par, note Return>

14. Schaff, second period, vol. 2 par. 173, pp, 724, 725 Return>

15.Moshiem b.I, c.2, pt. 2 chap. 4,pp. 182,183 Return>

16. Tertullian, Oxford, 1842, vol. I p. 38 Return>

17. Second period, vol. I par. 61, p. 207, note I Return>

18. Vol. 18, p. 409 Return>

19.“Christian Sabbath,” Cleveland, 1879, p.99 Return>

20.Hase, Kirchengeshichte, Leipzig, 1885, Th, I, par. 38 Return>

21.“Six Dialogues on the Lord’s Day,” London, pp. 22,23 Return>

22.Second period, vol. I par. 2 pp. 11,12Return>

23.“Ecclesiastical History,” pp. 2,12,17 Return>

24.Second period, par. 173. pp. 719-723 Return>

25.“History of Dogma” vol. 2, chap, 4, p. 228 Return>

26.“History of Dogma” vol. 1, chap. 3 p. 179, note I Return>

27.“First Apology”, p. 127, secs. 87-89 Return>

28.Ductor Dubitantium, pt. I,b.2, rule 6, sec. 45 Return>

29.Article, “sonntagsfeier” vol. 18, p. 521. Return>

30.Lev. 12:3 Return>

31.John 7:22 Return>

32.“Against Heresies,” b. 4, chap. 15 Return>

33.Id., chap. 14 Return>

34.Id., chap. 16 Return>

35.“Against Heresies,” b. 5, chp. 28 Return>

36.“Id., b. 4, chapt 13, Return>

[It is interesting that these church fathers, without any scriptural evidence, maintain that Abraham did not keep the Sabbath. Gen. 2:1-3 and Gen. 26:5 would have us believe otherwise.]

37.“Ante-Nicene Library, Iranaeus, vol. 2, fragment 7, pp. 162,163 Return>

38. Lev. 23:5,6 Return>

39.Hauck-Herzog, article, “Passah” vol. 14, p. 734 Return>

40.Eusebius, 5, chp, 24 Return>

41.“History of the Popes” vol. 1 pp. 18,19 Return>

42.“History of Romanism” heading on page 32 Return>

43.Fragment 3, Opera ad Stieren, i, 887 Return>

44.Eusebius, 5. chps. 23,24 Return>

45. Harnack’s “History of Dogma” vol. 1, cha. 2, p.127 Return>

History of the Sabbath, Table of Contents