4th edition



In this chapter
Pages 247-280

247...Strange contrast between Sabbath and Sunday
247...Admissions of Protestant and Catholic authors concerning Sunday
249...Sunday observance a subject upon which church historians disagree
249...Neander’s statement
250...An unsound basis for Mosheim’s statement
251...Mosheim's own witnesses testify against him
253...Still worse, Mosheim against Mosheim
253...Mosheim's new Sunday theory exploded
257...Epistle of Barnabas a Gnostic production
265...The Letter of Pliny determines nothing in the case
268...Testimony of Ignatius misquoted
272...“The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles”
274...The definition and application of the Greek word "kuriakos" often translated “Lord’s Day” investigated
278...Questionable to base truth on writings of "Church Fathers"
279...The Bible and the Bible only, the Protestant Rule

History of Sabbath, Home Page


Prophets and apostles, the foundation of the Christian church, yea, even Jesus Christ Himself, its chief corner-stone, rested, as far as the inspired record shows, on no other day than the Sabbath, in harmony with the divine commandment. In strange contrast with this divine institution and these inspired examples, the observance of Sunday has for many centuries found general acceptance throughout Christendom, although Catholic and Protestant church historians and theologians freely admit that this custom rests only upon a human ordinance.


DR. J. Eck, the great Catholic champion in the controversy with Luther, makes the following admission:

“The church has changed the observance of the Sabbath to Sunday on its own authority, without Scripture, doubtless under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” 1

One of the foremost Catholic historians, J.J. Dollinger, writes:-- “The church established her own weekly festival…Nor is it true to say that the apostles changed the Sabbath into Sunday, the observance of the seventh day to the observance of the first. For, on the one hand, there is no trace of such a transference taking place, and, on the other, the Christian Sunday differs widely from the Sabbath of the law.” 2

A very high Protestant authority, the Augsburg Confession, makes, in its twenty-eighth article, entitled “Power of the Bishops,” the following admission:--

“What then is to be thought of the Lord’s day and the like formalities of the public worship? To this it is replied, that bishops or ministers have liberty to appoint forms of proceeding, that everything may go on regularly in the church.
…Of this nature is the observation of the Lord’s day, of Easter, Whitsuntide, and the like holy days and ceremonies.
…And yet because it was requisite to appoint a certain day, that the people might know when to assemble together, it appears that the church appointed for this purpose the Lord’s day.” 3

Another standard work, “Apology of the Augsburg Confession,” makes, in its fifteenth article, “Concerning Human Ordinances in the Churches,” the following positive statement:--

“Furthermore, the three oldest ordinances in the churches, i.e., the three high feast-days, etc., Sunday observance and the like, which have been invented for the sake of good order, unity, and peace, etc., such we observe gladly.” 4


While eminent Protestant and Catholic authorities admit in the plainest terms that Sunday is only a church ordinance of human origin, we meet in some church histories, and still more in theological literature, positive statements that Sunday was instituted in the apostolic age as the Lord’s day of the New Testament, and that the observance of the Sabbath as belonging to the ceremonies of the Old Testament was simply dropped. The important historical fact that the Sabbath was extensively observed in Christendom for centuries afterward, is passed by in silence, and the universal, eternal claims of the divine law are ignored. Therefore, it is of considerable interest to see how church historians arrive at so widely differing statements. Neander and Mosheim will serve us well by way of illustration.


Neander, “father of modern church history,” in perfect keeping with the above statements, says:

“Sunday was distinguished as a day of joy by the circumstances that men did not fast upon it, and that they prayed standing up and not kneeling, as Christ had raised through his resurrection. The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance, and it was far from the intentions of the apostles to establish a divine command in this respect, far from them, and from the early apostolic church, to transfer the laws of the Sabbath, to Sunday. Perhaps at the end of the second century a false application of this kind had begun to take place; for men appear by that time to have considered labouring on Sunday as a sin” (Tertullian de Orat., c. 23) 5

On the other hand, Mosheim makes the following quite different statement:

“The Christians in this century, assembled for the worship of God, and for their advancement in piety, on the first day of the week, the day on which Christ reassumed his life for that this day was set apart for religious worship by the apostles themselves, and that, after the example of the church of Jerusalem, it was generally observed, we have unexceptionable testimony” (Ph. J. Hartmann, de Rebus gestis Christianor. Sub Apostolis, cap. 15, p. 387. J. Hen. Boehmer, Diss. I juris eccles., antiqui. De stato die Christianor., p. 20, etc) 6

Neander, as a careful writer, readily perceived that the leading motive for the very early 7 introduction of the Sunday festival among the Gentile Christians was opposition to Judaism, rather than a divine command. But after reviewing Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10; Ignatius to Magnes., sec. 9, and in a foot-note, also 1 Cor. 16:1,2, he arrives at the above conclusion that Sunday, “like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance.”


Mosheim, on the other hand, bases his statement that the apostles themselves set apart Sunday, on the unexceptionable testimony of two other authors. Mosheim wrote his history in Latin (1726-1739). His German translator, J.R. Schlegel, added (1780) to the foot-note in brackets; “See also Acts 20:7; 2:1; 1 Cor. 16:1,2; Rev. 1:10 Phiny, epist. Lib. 10, epist. 97,n.7."


All depends now on the two authors Hartmann and Boehmer, both of whom wrote in Latin. The passage referred to in Hartmann's book reads thus:

“The first church being composed of Jews, the established Sabbath observance remained with them for a time, and the apostles observed the Sabbath alone, visiting the synagogues on the Sabbath day, to explain the gospel. To the Gentiles they spoke concerning sacred things every other day. However, we do not deny that Sunday was introduced in the middle of the apostolic age; the Revelation mentions it plainly. The schools of the apostles and the older apologists mention it as having been introduced and kept for a long time, although its observance did not commence as long as Jerusalem stood:

Then in note 7 he remarks:-- “No statement can be produced concerning the weekly observance of Sunday excepting Rev. 1:10; for Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 16:2, on which Lightfoot bases his assertions, do not at all apply to Sunday. Lightfoot dares to assert, of 1 Cor. 16:2, that the apostles and disciples converted to the faith in Judea had not only observed Sunday, but had also kept it holy, it being a divine institution. In no law is the observance of any new day prescribed, either by the Savior or by the apostles” 8

Hartman’s “unexceptionable testimony,” instead of supporting Mosheim's statement, on the contrary, brands any such declaration as that the apostles ever observed Sunday, it being a divine institution, as a daring assertion. Hartmann and Neander fully coincide. We now proceed to the next testimony of Boehmer. In his “Dissertation on the Ancient Canon Law About the Stated Day,” he referred to the letter of Pliny, the Roman governor of Bythinia, written to the emperor Trajan. It was written about A.D. 104. Pliny says of the Christians of his province:

"They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. (Early Christian Writings)

We read Boehmer‘s testimony on this passage, page 20--

“It remains to be investigated whether the day of Sunday was also a definite day to the Christians in Bithymia, on which they were accustomed to assemble, which seemingly, is the more definitely asserted because this was already a Christian holy day in the time of the apostles” 9

How positively Dr. Boehmer protests against the idea of any apostolic appointment, is seen from the following paragraphs. After considering 1 Cor. 16:2 and Acts 20:7, and the statements in Justin Martyr, he concludes:--

In the original mother church (as Tertullian calls it), the early Christians in Jerusalem gathered together every day, pouring forth their united prayers, and thus by no means preferring any certain definite day to any other. It is well to observe that there is nowhere a statement that the apostles ever held any consultation or gave any command concerning the appointment of a definite day; should this have happened, Luke surely would not have omitted mentioning it. As he does not pass by institutions of minor importance. In fact, the very Acts of the Apostles most decidedly show that the Jewish believers had not departed from their custom, but most tenaciously adhered to the customs of their fathers. We must therefore conclude that they assembled on the Sabbath according to their wonted custom. The apostles desired no difference of days, decidedly insisting upon liberty, and would never prescribe any laws or holy days. . . How can one therefore believe that they charged all the churches to keep the first day holy? From all this, therefore, how easily one can guess that it can not be ascribed either to the law or to apostolic command, but to mere custom that Christians had held holy assemblies on that day.” 10


Mosheim must have been surely hard pressed for proof, if it was necessary to refer to positive statements against his theories as “unexceptionable testimony” for them. However, we not only find the witnesses brought forward by Mosheim, against him, but we shall see that Mosheim may be quoted against himself. While in his Church History he based his assertion concerning Sunday on the testimony of others, he, in a large work on Christian Ethics, wrote quite a dissertation on the Sunday question. That his inconsistency may stand out clearer, we shall place his two statements side by side;--


“That this day (Sunday) was set apart for religious worship by the apostles themselves, and that, after the example of the church at Jerusalem, it was generally observed, we have unexceptionable testimony.”


“The books of the New Testament do not state that the apostles appointed a certain day on which Christians should assemble for the worship of God.” 11


The fact of the matter is that men may be ever so eminent, but if they deviated from the plain Word of truth and from historical facts, their wisdom will always turn into folly. Lacking Scriptural proof, Mosheim in his learned dissertation tries to argue upon the nature of the case. The following, from a review of his lengthy argument by Dr. Henke, a Lutheran college president, will best show how well he succeeded:

Mosheim tried to discover a middle course between the old and the new doctrine. He says, ‘The obligation of the Christian Sabbath can not be proved from the Old Testament and from the Sabbath laws given to the Jews (p. 448) Furthermore, Paul teaches that the Sabbath was done away. But that Sunday has taken the place of the Sabbath, and thus the Sabbath has been introduced in another way, this is taught neither by Paul nor by any other apostle’ (p.449) Should the opponents claim that God gave the Sabbath as an eternal law immediately after creation, then they should be asked to retain the seventh day of the week as rest day. However, should they say that the apostles had power to change the Sabbath into Sunday, then they must first produce the proof, and this can not be furnished; for Mosheim truthfully and fittingly remarks: ‘Things that occurred can be proved only by witnesses’ (p. 454). However, in the scriptures, we read nothing of such an appointment on the part of these men. Mosheim’s opinion is this: The apostles had authority to found and to organize churches; therefore their appointments and institutions must be looked upon as coming from the Lord (p, 461). The laws of the apostles are either laws for a definite time only, or they are commandments that are binding forever (p. 463). Now, the question is, Did the apostles set apart a certain time to the service of God forever? The books of the New Testament contain no testimony concerning this. Mosheim continues: ‘The nature of the thing stands for the lack of testimonies.’ Right here we appeal to Mosheim’s words against Mosheim: ‘Things that occurred can be proved only by witnesses.’ From the nature of the thing; we might perhaps admit that something not testified to might have happened; but that may be granted only for such periods concerning which the historical testimonies are altogether too incomplete--and never regarding a time so rich in literature as the New Testament age. The attempt to construct from a supposition a certainty on which we afterward build a doctrine binding our conscience, is not at all admissible.

The question as to whether the apostles appointed Sunday as a day of worship, Mosheim also answers in the affirmative. But we know from history that for nearly two hundred years after the apostolic age, the Sabbath enjoyed the same right and the same honor in Christendom as did Sunday. Mosheim declares Sunday to be an ‘eternal institution, because the resurrection is of eternal significance’ (pp 484,485). However, in the life of Christ everything has, finally, an eternal signification. Yet dare we, without any special Scriptural authority, which, according to Mosheim’s own statements, is lacking in the case of Sunday, tie ceremonies to all the great events in the life of Christ, and declare them to be of the same eternal significance as those events?-- By no means. Such would be only human ordinances, against which Christ himself protested: [Matthew 15] 12

With what feelings Mosheim undertook to write his treatise, is seen from his own confession, which is as follows. --

“I must openly confess that for some time I questioned whether or not I should treat the doctrine concerning the Sabbath, or Sunday, as it is usually called. As often as I considered the intimate connection of this matter with the doctrine of public worship, so often did I decide that I could not leave it untouched. But as often as the multitude of treatises came to my mind, and the different ways in which it had been discussed, I was ready to change this conclusion.” 13

This confession fully explains the situation. When Mosheim wrote his church history, he got over the difficulty by simple assertions, referring to two other authorities. But when he was to substantiate his own statements, he searched in vain for any divine command or for an “express appointment of the apostles.” Instead of the “united testimony of the most credible writers,” as Maclaine's translation twists Mosheim's words, he perceived that there was already a babel of theories, and deferred the task. Finally, he took courage and contrived a new course of reasoning. But, lo, he simply added another to the multitude of Sunday theories, to be exploded by the next writer. And Professor Henke, although himself writing in favour of Sunday, has done this successfully. Our investigation has clearly demonstrated that the historians, as well as the rest of fallible men, are at times biased in their statements, and that such are of weight only when backed up by reliable evidences.

Mosheim wrote in the eighteenth century, Neander in the nineteenth. Thus both writers lived far removed from the apostolic age, and have to depend upon the writings of that and later periods. Mosheim himself is forced to admit that the New Testament contains no apostolic appointment for Sunday. It is equally true that no record exists in the new Testament of any example of the church at Jerusalem, on which to found Sunday observance; but on the contrary, that they continued the observance of the Sabbath.

We have quoted statements from eminent Protestant and Catholic authorities, that Sunday is only an ordinance of the church, invented at an early date, and of human origin. When and how this happened in the post apostolic age, now needs to be set forth from the historical material of that period. But before we undertake this, the following testimony of the Lutheran bishop Grimelund, of Norway, concerning the fixed time, is to the point.

“The Christians in the ancient church very soon distinguished the first day of the week, Sunday; however, not as a Sabbath, but as an assembly day of the church, to study the Word of God together and to celebrate the ordinances one with another: without a shadow of doubt this took place as early as the first part of the second century.” 14

After all that has been said concerning the second century, it is not to be wondered at if we should find in the meager, unreliable historical material of that century the first traces of the Sunday festival. Aside from the letter of Phiny, there has come down to us, from the second century, unreliable as much of it is, a small volume of the so-called Apostolic Fathers. The Fathers being the chief material in question, we by no means produce their testimonies to determine our faith,-- for this purpose the Bible is all sufficient, -- but rather to set forth how early the church deviated from the simple doctrines of the Bible, and how strikingly the apostolic predictions concerning the apostasy were fulfilled.

Epistle of Barnabas a Gnostic Production

Dr. G.C. Mayer, the learned Catholic translator of the Apostolic Fathers into German, states that the “oldest express witness for the Christian Sunday observance is found in the epistle of Barnabas.” 15

As this pretends to be an apostolic epistle, and yet is lacking in the New Testament canon, we must closely scrutinize it.

As to its authorship, neither the name nor the residence of the writer is mentioned. As the epistle of Barnabas it is, however, first cited by Clement of Alexandria, also by Origen, who even calls it a “Catholic” epistle. Under this name we find it in the Sinaitic Bible of the fourth century, immediately after the Apocalypse. Eusebius and Jerome likewise ascribe it to Barnabas, but number it among the “spurious,” or “apocryphal,” writings. 16

So while one Father cites it as Catholic, another rejects it as spurious, -- a striking illustration of the “unanimous consent of the Fathers,” so often alluded to by the Roman Church.

The quickest solution, however, of its authorship is found in its own contents. A standard Catholic Church encyclopedia is forced to make the following admission:--

“By far the greater number of theologians deny that it was written by Barnabas; and really its contents are of such a nature that it would be very hard to reconcile them to his authorship. The author takes such a hostile position toward the Old Testament as could scarcely be conceived of by an apostle. He teaches that the Old Testament has never been of any force.” 17

Schaff remarks:--

“The Old Testament is, with him, rather a veiled Christianity, which he puts into it by a mystical allegorical interpretation, as Philo, by the same method, smuggled into it the Platonic philosophy. In this allegorical conception he goes so far that he actually seems to deny the literal historical sense. He asserts, for example, that God never willed the sacrifice and fasting, the Sabbath observance and temple worship of the Jews, but a purely spiritual worship.” “He has some profound glances and inklings of a Christian philosophy. He may be called an orthodox Gnostic“. 18

In the Ante-Nicene Christian Library the following statement is found:--

“On perusing the epistle, the reader will be in circumstances to judge of this matter for himself. He will be led to consider whether the spirit and tone of the writing, as so decidedly opposed to all respect for Judaism-- the numerous inaccuracies which it contains with respect to Mosaic enactments and observances, the absurd and trifling interpretations of Scripture which it suggests, and the many silly vaunts of superior knowledge in which its writer indulges-- can possibly comport with its ascription to the fellow laborer of St. Paul.” “The general opinion is that its date is not later than the middle of the second century, and that it cannot be placed earlier than some twenty or thirty years before. In point of style, both as respects thought and expression, a very low place must be assigned to it.” 19

As a specimen of the unreasonable and absurd things contained in this epistle, the following passage is quoted: --

“Neither shalt thou eat of the hyena: that is, again, be not an adulterer; nor a corrupter of others; neither be like to such. And wherefore so? Because that creature every year changes its kind, and is sometimes male, and sometimes female.” 20

How far-reaching in its influence was this mystical allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament, and, as a logical result, of the New Testament, is best seen from the comment which Professor Seeberg, in his “History of Dogma,” makes on the passage quoted:--

“This method of exegesis, which soon became the dominant one, has cut off a historical understanding of the Old Testament for more than fifteen hundred years.” 21

This Gnostic method of exegesis furnishes us the very key, not to a higher knowledge of Bible truths, but to unlock the mystery of lawlessness. It reveals to us by what subtle means it early gained a foothold in the church of God, was able to darken some of the plainest truths, and could set aside some of the most definite requirements of the gospel, as well as of the law of God itself: yea, how it became dominant there. And that the author of this document was a Gnostic, is evident from the very contents. Neander calls him “a moderate Gnostic,” 22 while Harnack testifies as follows:

“Moreover, comparison is possible between writers such as Barnabas and Ignatius, and the so-called Gnostics, to the effect of making the latter appear in possession of a completed theory, to which fragmentary ideas in the former exhibit a striking affinity.” 23

From another source we read:--

“The author wants to give to his readers the perfect gnosis that the Christians are really the only people of the covenant, and that the Jewish people never stood in covenant relationship with God.” “The consequent development of the thought that the Jewish use of the Old Testament was only a misuse of it, inspire by the devil, is peculiar to the author. Circumcision and the Old Testament rites and ceremonies are to him the work of the devil.” 24

We are now prepared to listen to his gnosis, especially with reference to Sabbath and Sunday. He first starts out to show that Christianity is the all sufficient, divine institution for salvation, and an abrogation of Judaism, with all its laws and ceremonies. Christ has indeed given us a law; he maintains, but it is a new law, without the yoke of constraint. Then he continues in chapter 15:--

“Consider, my children, what that signifies-- he finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this, that in six thousand years the Lord will bring all things to an end, for with him one day is a thousand years, as himself testifieth, saying, Behold this day shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days-- that is, in six thousand years-- shall all things be accomplished. And what is it, that he saith, and he rested the seventh day? He meaneth this, that when his Son shall come and abolish the season of the wicked one, and judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun, and the moon , and the stars, then he shall gloriously rest in that seventh day. Moreover, he says ‘Thou shalt sanctify it with pure hands and a pure heart, If, therefore, any one can now sanctify the day which God hath sanctified, except he is pure in heart in all things, we are deceived. Behold, therefore: certainly one properly resting sanctifies it. When we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having first sanctified ourselves. Lastly he saith unto them: Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot bear them, Consider what he means by it. The Sabbaths, says he, which ye now keep are not acceptable unto me, but those which I have made when resting from all things, I shall begin the eighth day,-- that is the beginning of the other world; for which cause we observe the eighth day with gladness, on which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested openly, he ascended into heaven.” (Barnabas 15:8,9) 24a

The essence of this argument is: Answering to the six days of creation, God will finish the course of this world in six thousand years; answering to the Sabbath, a seventh thousand follows, when Jesus comes. Then the saints, being sanctified, will be able truly to rest on the seventh day, which they can not, while being unsanctified in this present wicked world. After thus giving rest to all things, the eighth day breaks on with the eighth thousand year, the beginning of a new creation. This is typified by keeping with joyfulness the eighth day, whereon Christ arose and ascended on high. 25 The conclusion is that the eighth day, which God never sanctified, is exactly suitable for observance in the present world.

The following comment from Cox, including also that of Domville, is to the point:--

“Very strong evidence would be required to convince any reasonable man that such fanciful matter as this proceeded from the associate of St. Paul. The passage, however, as Domville allows, ‘certainly is admissible evidence to show that in this time of the writer of the epistle the first day of the week was by some Christians-- somewhere or other, and after some fashion or other-- observed and distinguished from the other days of the week.’ (Vol 1, page 218) He adds: ‘Let those who, after reading the foregoing extracts from the epistle, still cling to the belief that Barnabas was the writer of it, read in the epistle itself what almost immediately follows upon the passage just quoted. I can not copy it, its absurdity is so far exceeded by its grossness.’ (Page 228) The epistle, then, he holds, ‘was not written by Barnabas; it is not merely unworthy of it,-- it would be a disgrace to him, and, what is of much more consequence, a disgrace to the Christian religion, as being he production of one of the authorized teachers of that religion, in the time of the apostles, which circumstance would seriously damage the evidence of its divine origin.;” (Page 223) 26

That this epistle was directed against those who still thought it possible even in this wicked world to keep the true Sabbath according to the commandment appears from chapter 3:

The long-suffering One, foreseeing, that in simplicity the people would believe that which he in his beloved had prepared, therefore instructed us beforehand concerning everything, in order that we as proselytes might not become subject to their law.’

The Catholic translator, Dr. Mayer, thus states the true standing of this anonymous epistle:--
“Though this Catholic epistle has gained access under the name of the apostle Barnabas among the books to be read by the church, outside, however, of the canon, yet the church has never guaranteed with this its genuineness, but rather left room to well-grounded doubts.”

Then he puts this pointed question:
But how was it possible that it found respect, circulation, and reception as epistola catholica among the books to be read by the church?” “It took into consideration and satisfied a need of the church, existing at that time.” 27

As this anonymous epistle, according to Schaff, “actually seems to deny the literal historical sense” of the Old Testament, asserting, for example, that God never willed the sacrifice and fasting, the Sabbath observance and temple worship of the Jews,” and “proclaims thus an absolute separation of Christianity from Judaism,” 28 This must have been the need of some party in the church at that time. But what party, and for what purpose, A Harnack informs us:--

“The Gnostics” “are therefore those Christians who, in a swift advance, attempted to capture Christianity for Hellenic culture, and Hellenic culture for Christianity and who gave up the Old Testament in order to facilitate the conclusion of the covenant between the two powers, and make it possible to assert the absoluteness of Christianity.” 29

The sum total of our investigation is : The so called epistle of Barnabas is spurious, put out by some anonymous Gnostic writer sometime in the second century, in all probability at Alexandria, and under an apostolic flag, it gained access even among the books to be read in the church. It utterly disregards the literal historical sense of the Bible, it denies the covenant relation of ancient Israel with God, it ascribes its divine institutions to an evil source, and it contains such absurdities as a hyena changing its sex annually, etc. In the midst of this mystical, allegorical Gnostic exegesis, it brings forth for the first time, worthy of its surroundings, the eighth day as a visionary type of future eternity, said to commemorate both resurrection and ascension, just good enough to be regarded as a day of jubilee in this wicked world. No allusion whatever is made to the institution of this eighth day by Christ or his apostles, or to any obligation to observe the divine law; on the contrary, a new law is mentioned, and no sacred title is given to the day.

Being Gnostic in its tendency, it can only be regarded as voicing the sentiment of a certain faction of post apostolic Christianity. But when this Gnostic exegesis became dominant in the church, and “Gnosticism, which the church had repudiated in the second century, became part of her own system in the third,” the natural result was that this alliance between Christianity and Hellenistic pagan culture became an accomplished fact, and the establishment of this visionary eighth-day jubilee, under the disguise of the Lord’s day, became the pronounced seal of this unholy union.

Letter of Pliny

The next document that claims our attention is the letter of Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, to the emperor Trajan. It was written about A.D. 109. He says of the Christians of his province: --

“They affirmed that the whole of their guilt or error was that they met on a certain stated day, before it was light, and addressed themselves in a form of prayer to Christ, as to some god, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery; never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and they reassembled to eat in common a harmless meal.” 30

As the epistle does not tell what day the stated day was, it can not be adduced as evidence for early Sunday observance. W.B. Taylor remarks: --

“As the Sabbath day appears to have been quite as commonly observed at this date as the sun’s day (if not even more so), it is just as probably that their ‘stated day’ referred to by Pliny was the seventh day as that it was the first day; though the latter is generally taken for granted. 31

Taking for granted the very point that should be proved, is no new feature in the evidence thus far examined in support of first-day observance. Tertullian, who wrote in A.D. 200, alludes in his Apology, sec. 2, to this very statement, but makes no reference whatever to Sunday;--

“He found in their religious services nothing but meetings at early morning for singing hymns to Christ and God, and sealing home their way of life by a united pledge to be faithful to their religion, forbidding murder, adultery, dishonesty, and other crimes.” 32

But the singular fact is that while Mosheim relies on this statement of Pliny as a chief support for Sunday observance, the very witness to whom he appeals, adduces the following argument:--

“Pliny reports that he had learned from the admission of apostates from the faith of Christ, that the Christians were accustomed to meet on a stated day ere it was light; but what that stated day was, he by no means decides. From this, most commentators incline to the supposition that Phiny meant the day of the sun, or dominicus. This they do from the conviction, which has taken hold of so many, that the Christians, after abandoning or changing the customs of the Jews, did not abrogate the solemn feast of the Sabbath (for they are fully persuaded that this neither has happened nor can happen); but that they transferred it to the day of the sun; in other words, that from the early commencement of Christianity, the so-called day of the sun was kept instead of the Sabbath. But innumerable circumstances found in the records of ancient antiquities concerning the condition of the churches as they existed in the time of Trajan and Pliny, cast serious doubt upon this matter indeed, so that they even differ as far as possible from the general conception of Pliny. One thing is a fact, that Pliny the Younger did not mean any other stated day than the one which was observed among the Christians; and therefore, in order to throw light on what Pliny says, we must look elsewhere to see what stated day they kept at that time.

“The stated day of the Jews was the Sabbath. As the Christians originate from the Jews and are their rightful successors, it is not probable that they at once forsook the laws of their fathers; but there is more reason to believe that the Christians followed the Jews in this respect -- a fact which Origen in his second book against Celsus by no means conceals. I therefore judge that I shall do nothing inadmissible by asserting that the Jewish believers who confessed Christ had, up to the time of Trajan, not rejected the whole observance of the Jewish law, but had retained the observance of the Sabbath, and then added to this the Sunday festival, by the liberty accorded them. As nearly all the churches which traced their origin from the Jews had thus far kept the Sabbath holy, we can certainly conclude that the churches in Pontus and Bithynia had also retained this custom up to that time, as they consisted almost wholly of Jewish Christians. This I conclude from 1 Peter 1:1, which epistle he wrote to the strangers scattered among the Gentiles throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. The apostles had divided among themselves the care for the spread of the gospel in such a manner that Peter proclaimed the grace of God to the Jews, and Paul and his companions, to the Gentiles. Gal. 2:8,9. From the fact that Peter wrote to the above-mentioned churches, I judge that they must have been founded by him and were chiefly composed of Jews; for the scattered strangers throughout the Gentile countries refer only to believing Jews, although I do not deny that, later, Gentiles joined these churches.” 33

This testimony of Pliny was written a few years subsequent to the time of the apostles. It relates to a church which probably had been founded by the apostle Peter. 34 It is certainly far more probable that this church, only forty years after the death of Peter, was keeping the fourth commandment than that it was observing a day never enjoined by divine authority. It must be conceded that this testimony from Pliny proves nothing in support of Sunday observance; for it does not designate what day of the week was thus observed.

Ignatius Misquoted

The epistles of Ignatius, so often quoted in behalf of first-day observance, next claim our attention. Concerning Ignatius and his epistles Neander writes:--

“Ignatius, bishop of the church at Antioch, is said, in the reign of Trajan, to have been conveyed as a prisoner to Rome, where he was expecting to be thrown to the wild beasts. On the way, he is said to have written seven epistles.” 35

Eusebius and Jerome enumerate seven Ignatian epistles, but in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries this number was swelled to fifteen, among them two letters to the apostle John and one to the Virgin Mary. Although these epistles “swarm with offences against history and chronology,” yet the Catholics at first accepted them all as genuine. Calvin condemned the whole lot as “abominable trash“ 36

The later Catholics surrendered at least eight as utterly untenable. But of the remaining seven, a shorter Greek recension was discovered in a Latin version by Archbishop Usher, 1644, and in Greek by Isaak Vossius, from a Medicean Codex in 1646. Henceforth the longer recension, which had thus far been about the only one known, was generally set aside even by Catholic scholars, as interpolated. But when in 1839 and 1843 a Syriac version was found, containing only the epistles to Polycarp, to the Ephesians, and to the Romans, and even these in a much reduced form, a number of scholars insisted that, if any, they only were genuine.

As to the character of their contents, the Magdeburg centuriators protested that “there were such terrible things intermingled with the text as to horrify the reader.” 37 Mosheim remarks as follows:--

“A regard for truth requires it to be acknowledged that so considerable a degree of obscurity hangs over the question respecting the authenticity of not only a part, but the whole, of the epistles ascribed to Ignatius, as to render it altogether a case of much intricacy and doubt.” 38

Neander says of the shorter edition:--

“Even the briefer revision, which is the one most entitled to confidence, has been very much interpolated.” 39

Schaff makes the following explicit statement concerning the contents and genuineness of the Ignatian epistles:--

“In the ‘catholic church’--an expression introduced by him--that is, the Episcopal orthodox organization of his day, the author sees, as it were, the continuation of the mystery of the incarnation, on the reality of which he laid great emphasis against the Docetists; and in every bishop, a visible representative of Christ, and a personal center of ecclesiastical unity, which he presses home upon his readers with the greatest solicitude and almost passionate zeal,” “. Here lies the chief importance of these epistles; and the cause of their high repute with catholics and prelatists, and their unpopularity with anti-episcopalians, and modern critics of the more radical school. .”

“It is remarkable that the idea of the Episcopal hierarchy…should be first clearly and boldly brought out, not by the contemporary Roman bishop Clement, but by a bishop of the Eastern Church; though it was transplanted by him to the soil of Rome. And there sealed with his martyr blood. Equally noticeable is the circumstance that these oldest, documents of the hierarchy soon became so interpolated, curtailed, and mutilated by pious fraud that it is today almost impossible to discover with certainty the genuine Ignatius of history under the hyper- and pseudo- Ignatius of tradition.” 40

Doubtful as the seven Ignatian epistles, even in their shorter version, may seem, for they stand side by side on the same manuscripts with decidedly spurious epistles, yet as one of them is often adduced in favor of Sunday, we will consider it. The passage often used occurs in the epistle to the Magnesians, chapters 8 and 9: To guard against the charge of a wrong rendering, we quote the text as it is given in the noted Bampton lectures by J.A. Hessey:--

“Be not deceived with heterodox opinions, nor old, unprofitable fables. For if we still live according to Judaism, we confess that we have not received grace. For even the most holy prophets lived according to Jesus Christ…..
If they then who were concerned in old things, arrived at a newness of hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living according to the Lord’s life, by which our life sprang up by him and by his death,. . .how can we live with out him, whose disciples even the prophets were, and in spirit waited for him as their teacher? Wherefore, he whom they justly waited for, when he came, raised them up from the dead.” 41

Now as to the originals, on which the above rendering is based, we would say that Usher, the very one who found the shorter version, using the Latin Codexes Montacutianus and Caiensis, renders this: “non amplius Sabbatum colentes, sed juxta Domincam vitam agentes”42

Voss, the discoverer of the Greek version in the Codex Mediceus, gives the Greek--...Kuriakos zoe ...43 the text as it stands in the Greek and Latin Codexes and the above English translation is in perfect harmony with its context and with similar contrasts made in later writings. No mention whatever is made here of Sunday, nor is it called here the Lord’s day. Should on this account any one question even the originals of this shorter version, then let him be consistent enough to drop the whole passage and not to bring it forward as any kind of proof. As the attempt to smuggle into this passage the term “Lord’s day” is but a link in a whole chain of similar attempts, we will consider them as a whole in the next chapter.

The teaching of the Twelve Apostles"

In our investigation thus far we have considered an anonymous epistle, falsely ascribed to the apostle Barnabas, and have set forth its spurious character; then fifteen Ignatian epistles claimed our attention, which none less than Calvin, in Inst., book I, chap. 13, sec. 29, terms “abominable trash;” we fitly close this dark age with another anonymous document bearing the most high-sounding title, even a twofold one: “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles; the Teaching of the Lord by the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles.” The document names no author, nor gives the place or the date of its composition, nor are there any hints in its contents whereby they might be inferred with the least certainty. Thus every period between the first and fifth centuries has been guessed, and almost every country between Egypt and Rome by way of land.

This document was found in 1873, in a monastery in Constantinople, bound together in one volume with the epistle of Barnabas, two Clementine epistles, the spurious epistle of Mary of Cassoboli to Ignatius, and twelve pseudo-Ignatian epistles, all written by the same copyist, who signs himself “Leon, notary and sinner,” June 11, 1056. If its character is to be decided by the company it keeps, it is decidedly bad.

Eusebius is the first who mentions among the “spurious” books the “so-called Teachings of the Apostles,” Athanasius classifies “Teaching so called of the Apostles” with the apocryphal books, like Sirach, Tobias, etc. In the apostolically Constitutions of pseudo-Clement of Rome, compiled in the first half of the fourth century, and condemned by the Trullan council for its heretical interpolations, we find it somewhat enlarged and changed as “book seven.” As to the merit of its contents we let one of its ablest admires, Schaff, testify:--

“The truths it contains and the duties it enjoins are independently known to us from the Scriptures” “It is not free from superstitious notions and mechanical practises which are foreign to apostolic wisdom and freedom.” 44

An investigation of its contents more than substantiates the testimony of Schaff. Thus we read in chapter 4: If thou hast, thou shalt give with thy hands a ransom for thy sins,-- Catholic meritorious giving with atoning efficacy. In chapter 6: If indeed thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou shalt be perfect; but if thou art not able do what thou canst,-- a strange standard of apostolic teaching. In chapter 7: If thou canst find no living water, pour thrice upon the head-- the beginning of the Catholic mode of sprinkling. In chapters 7 and 8: Before baptism let both minister and catechumen fast. Do not fast like the hypocrites on the second and fifth days, but on the fourth, and the preparation day-- the beginning of stated weekly fast-days, after the manner of pharisaic fasting only the days are changed. In chapter 11: If an apostle remains longer than two days, or asks for money, he is a “false prophet.”


It would be quite in keeping, if in connection with such “moralism, pettiness, and superstition,” Sunday observance should be mentioned. There is a text in chapter 14:1 adduced in favor of Sunday, and we quote it, giving the questionable part in the original:--

“But coming together kara kuriakos of the Lord, break bread and give thanks, having before confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one who has a dispute with his fellow come together with you until they are reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled.”

(To give the reader the true Greek wording and variations of "kuriakos" given in the book "History of the Sabbath". Click here to see three pages scanned.

These words evidently refer to the Lord’s supper but the Greek text is incomplete. The preposition kara with the accusative may denote: “down along passing over, through, or unto, pertaining to, according to: (a) of place: (b) of time; (c ) of other relations; and (d) in distributive expressions.” 45

As to the term kuriakos we give Schaff’s own notes: The first use of kuriakos as a noun, but with the pleonastic addition of rov kuriakos. Then under “Words Used for the First Time in the Didache,” he says: “kuriakos , 14:1, the Lord’s day. Occurs as a noun in Ignatius, Gregory Nazianzen, etc., and in Apost. Const. often.” Then, after referring to Apost. Cont. 7:30, he continues: “The New Testament has the adjective, in 1 Cor. 11:20, of the Lord’s supper, and in Rev. 1:10, of the Lord’s day.”

As this term first occurs as an adjective in the writings of Paul, and as a noun in the Didache (its use in both forms being purely Christian), its correct definition must be settled, not from any dictionary or by any theologian, but from the very passages in which it is to be found. All any dictionary can do is what Schaff does--quote the instances of its occurrence. Schaff and others assert that kuriakos means the Lord’s day, and that it is applied in that sense in subsequent Christian literature. We challenge them to prove this from the literature of that period. We could not accept evidence adduced from the literature centuries later; for theological terms, more than any other class of words, have changed their original meanings in the process of time. The only fair way is to produce all the passages where this term occurs until the end of the second century, and see if this rendering and application can be justified:--

In all the Gospels we see Sunday referred to simply as the “first day of the week”.
Paul, the originator of this adjective, in 1 Cor. 11: 20 speaks of the kuriakos deipnon or “the Lord’s supper:>
John in Rev. 1:10: kuriakos hemera or “Lord’s day”.
Didache, 14:1: kuriakos kurios or “Lord’s of the Lord
Ignatius, Magn. 7:1 Kuriakos zoe or “Lord’s life”>
Justin Martyr, “Dial, with Trypho,” chap. 41: speaks of the first day of the week
Justin Martyr, “First Apology,” chap. 6: speaks of the “day of the sun”.
Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 194) in Miscell., book 5: kuriakos hemera “Lord’s day”.

We are now brought down to the close of the second century, and what is the result? --According to its first use, the term applied to the Lord’s supper. John uses the same adjective in speaking of the Lord’s day (kuriakos hemera). The conclusion from its use in the New Testament is, the word means the Lord’s, or belonging to the Lord, whatever may be referred to. Ignatius uses the very same preposition, the same case, the same gender, as is found in the Didache, to be rendered, “according to the Lord’s life.” This fully sustains the first conclusion reached from the New Testament -- it may be the Lord’s supper, the Lord’s day, or the Lord’s life.

But we have another chain of proof. All the Gospels give to Sunday its regular Bible name “first day of the week.” If the Didache is said to be the first evidence that henceforth this Bible term was changed into kuriakos , then Justin Martyr, writing soon afterward, ought to have used it. But lo and behold, he uses interchangeable the Bible term “first day of the week,” and the heathen designation “day of the sun”.

The next witness brought forward by Scaff is Gregory Nazianzen, a writer of the latter part of the fourth century. But the authority on which Schaff rests his rendering is, according to his own quotation, the Apostolic Constitutions, dating from the end of the fourth century, The merits of this composition we will consider in later chapters.

The word kuriakos was, as a rule, associated with hemera even into the fourth century; so in Clement, in Eusebius, and on the tombstones. What the “Lord’s day” meant to Clement and Origen, we shall find out in due time. In Origen we find the first trace of the use of the term kuriakos (A.D. 231)

The names of the days of the week under went a wonderful change through the influence of the church, we shall show as we proceed. To sum up: No writier until a century later uses kuriakos as a noun. A writer of the same period as the Didache applies it to the Lord’s life, and another uses interchangeably the Bible or the heathen designation for the first day of the week.

Last, but not least: The text in the Didache is the only place known in all literature where the term “the Lord’s of the Lord” occurs. Prof. J.R. Harris and Dr. Taylor, perceiving this, try to show from the tenor of the epistle and from the context, that it must have reference to some great annual festival, answering to the day of atonement. They quote as evidence, from the Mishna, Yoma 8:9: “Transgression between man and his fellow the day of atonement did not expiate, until his fellow be reconciled.” 46


Be that as it may, the statement is open to various interpretations, like others in the same epistle. The Catholic finds here allusions to the mass, stated fast-days, meritorious alms, purgatory. Why, therefore, should not the Protestant be expected to find in all this an allusion to the missing link for a post-apostolic Sunday-Lord’s-day; or to sprinkling? It may be a comfort to one hard pressed for Bible proof to sustain early Sunday observance to quote from the Apostolic Fathers, yea, even from the “Teachings of the Twelve Apostles,” Some who do this may not know that the Apostolic Fathers are a pseudo-Barnabas, a pseudo-Ignatius, a pseudo-Clement, and that the “Teaching of the Apostles” is the spurious work of an unknown author of an unknown period, and that even these spurious works must be taken in their interpolated versions of late centuries, to furnish any seeming evidences, as we shall see in the next chapter. We have seen that the Greek text of this epistle does not contain the phrase kuriakos hemera , , Lord’s day, as found in Rev. 1:10, and that , even if it did, there would be lacking in the context every specification as to which day is meant, and why it is thus styled -- the very proof necessary to make the occurrence of such a term of any value.

One thing only is certain, that, as this epistle is “not free from superstitious notions and mechanical practises which are foreign to apostolic wisdom and freedom,” the title of it is a universally admitted forgery, and its contents are a compilation of some unknown author writing centuries later. The following statement from R. Cox about the Christian Fathers, based on his own experience in compiling his “Literature of the Sabbath Question,” is directly to the point: --


It is a received maxim that the Bible, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants. According to the sixth article of the Church of England, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation,” And in the Westminster Confession it is in like manner declared that “the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his won glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down I Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

“It is therefore somewhat surprising that theologians who accept and are constantly proclaiming this principle, should lay so much stress, as they evidently do, upon what the early post apostolic writers say, or are supposed to say, about the Sabbath and the Lord’s day. For if it can be proved from Scripture that the Lord’s day is a divinely appointed Christian institution, there is no need for further evidence of the fact, . . . While if the alleged fact can not be proved from Scripture, the opinions and practise of the Fathers would be of no avail, even if these were always rational, and if we could rely on the genuineness of all the writings which have come down to us as theirs.

“But no such reliance is due to the works in question. ‘Of all the chasms in the records of history‘, says Dr. Arnold, ‘none is so much to be regretted as that wide one of more than a century, in which all full and distinct knowledge of the early state of Christianity after the date of the apostolically epistles has been irretrievably buried. In the apostolically epistles themselves we have a picture clear and lively, from which we can gain a very considerable knowledge what the Christian church then was. But from these epistles, which merely as historical monuments are so invaluable; from these records, undoubtedly genuine, uncorrupted, uninterpolated, and in which everything is drawn with touches equally faithful, bold, and distance, we pass at once into a chaos. We come to works of disputed genuineness, with a corrupted text, full of interpolations, and which, after all, are so different from the apostolically epistles in their distinctness and power of touch, that even if we could rely on their authenticity, the knowledge to be derived from them is exceedingly vague and scanty. . .We stop then at the last epistle of St. Paul to Timothy, with something of the same interest with which one pauses at the last hamlet of the cultivated valley, when there is nothing but moor beyond. It is the end, or all but the end, of our real knowledge of primitive Christianity; there we take our last distance look around; further the mist hangs thick, and few and distorted are the objects that we discern in the midst of it.” 47

We have followed our opponents into the chaos of tradition’ we have found the forbidden byways of false gnosis in a “new law;” we have seen the heavy mists of declining paganism trying to obscure the bright rays of the gospel, and as a strange mirage of the sunlight of the gospel there looms up before us the phantom of an “eighth-day” rest -- visionary type of eternity. Tracing our steps back to the good old Book, and resting on the Bible only, we are constrained to exclaim with the psalmist: “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul, the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” Ps. 19:7

1. Enchiridion, 1533. P. 78 Return>

2. “The First Age of Christianity,” London, 1877, vol. 2, pp. 206,207 Return>

3. Quoted in Cox’s “Literature of the Sabbath Question”. vol. 1, pp. 130,131. Return>

4. “Evengelisches Concordienbuch,” p. 125. Return>

5. This quotation is taken from Rose’s Neander, London, 1831, vol.1, p. 33F, and is the correct translation from Neander’s first German edition. Hamburg, 1826, vol. I, pt. 2. P. 339. Neander has in his second edition, 1842 omitted the second sentence, in which he expressly stated that Sunday was only a human ordinance, but he has added nothing to the contrary. Return>

6. Murdock’s Moshiem, c. I, pt. 2, chap. 4, sec. 4 Return>

7. In his history of the apostolic church Neander remarks: “A really reliable and positive mention of Sunday as a church festival among Gentile Christians we can not find in the time of the apostle Paul” --Gesh. Der Pflanzung und Leitung der christl. Kirche durch die Apostel., p. 209 Return>

8. Historia Antiquitatum Eccl., Christ. Ph. Ph. J. Sclerando (Hartmann), pp. 386,387 Return>

9. Dissertationes Juris, Eccl. Antiq. Ad Plinium, sec. Dis. I p. 20 Return>

10 Id., pp.. 23,24 Return>

11. Sittenlehre, Helmstadt, 1752, Th, V Haupst. I, p. 464 Return>

12. Studien u. Kritiken, Jahry. 1886. Pp. 652, 653. Return>

13. Sittenlehre, vol. 5, p. 443 Return>

14. Geshichte des Sonntags, p. 60. Return>

15. Kemptener Ausgabe, p, 108 Return>

16. Schaff, second century, Chris., vol. 2 sec. 167. P. 675 Return>

17. Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexikon, article, “Barnabas” Return>

18. “Ante-Nicene Christianity,” vol. 2, sec. 167, pp. 673, 674 Return>

19. Edinburgh, 1867, vol. 1 pp. 99, 100. Return>

20. Barnabas, chap. 9 Return>

21. Lehrbuch der Dogmensgeschichte, Erlangen, 1895, vol. 1, sec. 7, p. 36 Return>

22. Church History,” vol. 2 p. 63, foot-note 1 Return>

23. “History of Dogma,” vol. 1 chap. 4, p. 229 Return>

24. Hauck-Herzog, Realencyclopedia, article,” Barnabas” vol. 2, p. 413 Return>

24a. Epistle of Barnabas

25. Christ’s ascension took place on the fortieth day --on a Thursday (see Acts 1:3)--after the resurrection which took place on the first day of the week .Return>

26. Cox, Vol. 1, p.306 Return>

27. “Apostolische Vater,” pp. 74-76 Return>

28. “Ante-Nicene Christianity,” vol. 2., sec. 176, pp. 673, 674 Return>

29. “History of Dogma,” vol. 1 chpat. 4, p. 228 Return>

30. Pliny’s Letters,” b. 10, epist. 97 Pliny’s Letters”

31. Historical Commentaries,” c. 2 se. 47 Return>

32. Tertullian Apology, sec. 2 Apology

33. Dissertatio 1 de stato die Christianorum, secs. 2,3 pp. 5-7 Return>

34. 1 Peter 1:1. See Clarke’s Commentary, preface to the epistles of Peter Return>

35. “Church History,” vol. 2, p. 443 Return>

36. Inst., b. chp. 13, sec. 29. Return>

37. Jahrg. 2, Kap. 19. 314 Return>

38.Eccleslastical Commentaries,” cent. 1 sec. 52 Return>

39. Neander, “Church History,” vol. 2, p. 443. “Ante-Nicene Christianity,” vol. 2, sec. 164, pp. 659, 660

40. Schaff "History of the Christian Church" Ante- Nicene Christianity: vol. 2 sec. 164, pp. 659, 660. Schaff

41. Sunday, p. 41
Ignatius Shows how the passage is rendered in most translations
"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".

42. Edition 1644 In the Greek parallel Usher includes zoe (life) Return>

43. Patrum Apostolicorum Opera, Leipzig, 1876, pp, 36-39 Return>

44. The Oldest Church Manuel” New York, 1885, p. 138 Return>

45.Hadley’s Greek Grammar, New York, 1878 p. 247 Note: The book "History of the Sabbath" has the Greek words in their Greek format-- this webpage has reduced them to "English characters".

46. Harris, “The Teaching of the Apostles” London, 1887, p. 105; C. Taylor. “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” Cambridge, 1886 Return>

47. Cox. Vol. 1, pp. 306, 307 Return>

Continue to chapter 14

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