by W.E.Straw

Originally Published by
Review and Herald Publishing Association 1939

Chapters five to eight


1 Did Gentile Converts Keep the Sabbath?
2 What Was Done Away by Christ?
3 Sunday in the Early Church
4 The Lord's Day
5 Gnosticism
6 Sunday at Alexandria in the Second Century
7 Sunday in Asia in the Second Century
8 Events and Changes in the Second Century
9 Sunday in the Third Century
10 Sunday in the Fourth Century
11 Pagan and Christian Rituals
12 Heathen Customs and the Church
13 How Sunday Came Into the Church
Appendix -The Epistles of Ignatius
Footnotes & References

5. Gnosticism

In view of the evidence available, we may conclude with certainty that as long as Paul lived there was no chance for a change to come in which would affect the day of worship. The change must have come later. Then how did it take place? We answer briefly: It seems to have come about through the influence of semi-heathen and semi-Platonic beliefs and practices called Gnosticism.

Gnosticism Defined

What do we mean by Gnosticism? The expression comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. The great heathen religions were looking for some means of salvation. Most of them thought this redemption was dependent upon some sort of knowledge, or gnosis, and so they looked for that magic formula by which it might be accomplished. There was a constant striving for the secret information by which they might attain unto salvation.

Origin of Gnosticism

The place where this striving developed into a great system was at Alexandria in Egypt. Here there was an intermingling of the different religions of the empire, out of which finally grew a great system known as Gnosticism. The greatest influence in this movement was the affiliation of the different schools and religions at Alexandria-one of the greatest university cities in the world at the beginning of the Christian Era. Here nearly every religion had its school of learning, and here the teachers and the students of these different faiths mingled and discussed their philosophies and religious ideas. As a result they fused their beliefs into a conglomerate mass of opinions that later spread throughout the Christian church. Professor Sayce says of it, “Alexandria was not only the meeting place of East and West, it was also the place where the decrepit theology of Egypt was revived by contact with the speculative philosophy of Greece. The Egyptian, the Greek, and the Jew met there on equal terms, and the result was a theological system in which each had his share. In Philo [the Jew], we are told, we find Moses Platonizing; but the atmosphere in which lie did so was that of the old Egyptian faith.” [1]

Gnostics Used Allegories

Dr. E. de Pressense says, “Starting from the idea of a hidden, incomprehensible God, who has no contact with the finite, it developed most prominently the theory of intermediary divinities, who, by means of emanation, were able to produce the lower world, which the supreme God could not even touch. . . . Gnosticism gathered symbols and allegories on all hands; it drew from pagan sources no less than from the sacred books of the Jews and the Christians.” [2]

The Gnostics adopted a method of allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures which had been introduced among the Jews by Philo. They would take a statement of fact from the Scriptures and use it as an allegory, or as a representation of something else. For instance, Valentinus, a Gnostic of the second century, interpreted the Garden of Eden and the experiences recorded there as representing the birth of a child. He represented the Garden of Eden and the rivers flowing from it as a mother and her anatomy.

“Moses, he says, resorting to allegory, has declared Paradise to be the womb. . . . a river flowing forth from Eden, for the purpose of irrigating Paradise (meaning by this), the navel. This navel, he says, is separated into four principles; for on either side of the navel are situated two arteries, channels of the spirit, and two veins, channels of blood.” [3] And again, “The world, then, as Moses says, was made in six days, that is, by six powers.” [4] This is a fair sample of their method. We shall soon observe these same characteristics in the writings of the Alexandrian church Fathers. Especially is this apparent in the writings of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Clement, and Origen, the first four men to mention Sunday observance in the church.

Used Images

Another of the Gnostic characteristics was image worship. Many wonder how the practice of apostles. We hear nothing about them in the churches of the East for years after the apostles had passed away. But in the fourth and fifth centuries image worship was manifest everywhere. Whence this change? The only satisfactory answer yet given is that it came from Gnosticism. As these Gnostics were allowed to come into the church and still continue their practices, the worship of images gradually came into the church, and later was adopted as part of its ritual. Irenaeus writes, “They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from other kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers.” [5]

Used Greek Philosophy

Although many of these Gnostics claimed to adhere to certain Christian tenets, still they were steeped in the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato. Valentinus was so imbued with their teaching that Hippolytus said he should “justly be reckoned a . . . Platonist, not a Christian.” [6] Yet Clement, the great professor of the Christian school at Alexandria, later manifested this same spirit in his writings. Finally this philosophy became the most pronounced theology of the Christian church.

Milman says: “This Platonism had gradually absorbed all the more intellectual class; it hovered over, as it were, and gathered under its wings all the religions of the world. It had already modified Judaism; it had allied itself with the Syrian and Mithraic worship of the sun, the visible mediator, the emblem of the Word; it was part of the general nature worship; it was attempting to renew paganism, and was the recognized and leading tenet in the higher mysteries.” [7]

Gnostics Practiced Sun Worship

Professor William Olcott says, “The chief masculine deity of every nation, which was the chief object of their idolatrous worship, is in every case to be identified with the sun .” [8] Professor Cumont adds, “For all the astrologers, the sun, as before remarked, was the royal star, and it was consequently he who gave to his chosen ones the virtue of sovereignty, and called them to kingly dominion.” [9] So we see that the principal deity worshiped in the early days of the Christian Era, and that which was the central figure of the Gnostic system, was the. sun.

They Observed Sunday

When did they worship this deity? Neander says, They “celebrated the Sunday of every week, not on account of its reference to the resurrection of Christ, for that would have been inconsistent with their Docetism, but as the day consecrated to the sun, which was in fact their Christ.---[10] Professor Cumont, the greatest authority on the subject, adds, “The preeminence [of the sun] contributed to the general recognition of Sunday as a holiday.” [11] 'Each day in the week, the planet to which the day was sacred was invoked in a fixed spot in the crypt, and Sunday, over which the sun presided, was especially holy.” [12] Hence, when the early church started on its career of conquest, astrology and sun worship were prevailing notions of the time, and Sunday was considered “especially holy,” and was dedicated to the worship of the sun by these Gnostics.

They Were Anti Jewish

Gnosticism appeared in many forms. Yet they all agreed in the idea of one absolute and far-distant God beyond and opposed to all contact with matter, the essence of evil. In opposition to this power there was another who was the author of matter and evil. Between these two opposing forces there was a long chain of emanations or cons operating. One of the lower of these was the Demiurgus. In the second and third centuries this Demiurgus was considered the one who -creates the wor1d without any suspicion of the existence of a power higher than his own; he fashions incoherent matter, and forms from it the human body, into which he breathes life. He gives man a law, but without rendering him capable of fulfilling it. The fall of man is laid to the charge of the Demiurgus. . . . The Old Testament is the monument of this maleficent activity, the Jewish people is the people of the Demiurgus, the law is the emination of his cruel justice and the miserable destinies of Israel reveal the impotence of a god who could not even secure the happy fortunes of his favorites.. Paganism belongs to matter and to the demons, as Judaism to the Demiurgus.” [13]


By way of review we may recall that we have observed the following characteristics among Gnostics: 1. They allegorized the Scriptures. 2. They worshiped images. 3. They clung to philosophical rather than Biblical ideas. 4. They worshiped the sun as their Christ. 5. They observed Sunday. 6. They were anti-Jewish in the second and third centuries.

Although semi-Gnostic ideas seem to have appeared among Christians first at Alexandria, yet it is not long before we see an effort put forth to establish them at Rome, the capital of the empire. Valentinus went from Alexandria to Rome and labored for some twenty years during the first half of the second century. Basilides had a large following at both Alexandria and Rome.

Newman says of another: “Marcion, a native of Pontus, went to Rome about 138 or 139 and became a member of the Roman church. Failing in an attempt to bring the church to his way of thinking, he felt constrained to organize his adherents into a separate church and to inaugurate an active propaganda. Within a few years he had built up a strong community in Rome, and organizations of his followers had been formed in most of the provinces. . . . In general it may be said that Gnosticism led the way in the amalgamation of Christian and pagan thought and life that was to transform the religion of Christ and His apostles into the Christianity of the third and following centuries.” [14]

6. Sunday at Alexandria in the Second Century

The second century was a period of great changes. This was especially true in Alexandria and Egypt, where that peculiar mixture of religious sentiments developed into what was known as Gnosticism. But these Gnostics were not living in isolation, apart from the rest of mankind. They were living and active representatives of their beliefs, and they materially influenced the men of their time and the Christian church at that place. About all we hear from Alexandria during the first century and the first half of the second is concerning Gnostics or half Gnostics, such as Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Basilides, Valentinus, etc., who came up among the disciples and caused trouble because of their strange and obnoxious doctrines.

Alexandria the Seat of Gnosticism

But the important and radical changes that came in and later so seriously affected the church made their entrance at Alexandria, the seat of Gnosticism. It was at this place that we first hear of Gnostic sentiments in the church. It is here that we first hear of men who profess to be Christians favoring image. worship. It is here also that we first hear of men in the church allegorizing the Scriptures and opposing the Old Testament. It is here, or from places under that influence, that we find men tinged with Gnostic ideas who give us our first sure and authentic reference to Sunday observance in the Christian church.

We will show, as we proceed, that Sunday observance appeared at the time of the Jewish war. But the importance of it can hardly be too strongly emphasized, especially as so many have passed it by unnoticed. The source of this and conditions that occasioned it we will explain. However, we will observe that all who spoke in favor of Sunday worship during the second century were tinged with Gnosticism, and were anti Jewish.

Why and when did these sentiments arise? We first hear of them about the time of the Jewish war between 115 and 135 A.D. This was the war that ended so disastrously for the Jews and started an odium against them which continued to grow until the people of the Christian church tried to keep as far as possible from Jewish practices, and developed an aversion to everything Jewish.

Alexandrian Church Unknown by Early Fathers

So far as the Alexandrian church was concerned, it wielded practically no influence upon Christianity in the early days. It was never alluded to until the end of the second century. None of the apostles came from there. Even after the death of the apostles, and for many years following, the church at Alexandria had very little influence upon Christianity. Charles Bigg says, “The church of Alexandria . . . remained almost without a history until the end of the second century. It is mentioned by Hadrian in his letter to Servianus; after this we hear of it no more until the persecution of Severus.” [1]

We are not told why there is this silence concerning the church at Alexandria. Evidently its attitude was not compatible with the spirit of the early Christians elsewhere. It certainly was not in harmony with the ideas and ideals of the early church of Palestine and Asia Minor. Irenaeus wrote: “John, the--Disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus [the Gnostic from Alexandria] within, rushed out of the bathhouse without bathing, exclaiming, 'Let us fly, lest even the bathhouse fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.' [2]

Hadrian's Letter

This gives us some idea of the type of people who came from Alexandria, and the feeling of the apostles and true worshipers toward them. Professor Bigg says that the only reference we have to this church for the first two centuries is from the letter of Hadrian, the emperor who lived at the time of the Jewish war. This letter was written to his brother-in-law, Servianus. What did he have to say about the Christians in Egypt when he wrote?

Bigg quotes from the letter: “ 'Egypt, which you praised to me so warmly, my dear Servianus, I found altogether frivolous, unstable, and shifting with every breath of rumor. There those who worship Serapis are Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are devoted to Serapis. There is in that country no ruler of the synagogue of the Jews, no Samaritan, no Christian priest, who is not astrologer, soothsayer, or apothecary. Even the renowned patriarch, when he comes to Egypt, is compelled by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ. . . . Their one god is money. Him, Christians, Jews, and Gentiles alike, adore.' [3]

Gnostic Influence

Gnosticism evidently had a great influence upon the church members at Alexandria, for whenever we hear from any of them during the first two centuries, it is from men who strongly manifest the sentiments of the Gnostics. Professor Rainy says that in the second century “Gnosticism was, after all, only an extreme case of a general tendency. It was a very general thought that the divine excellency of Christianity must then be ours when we find it rising upon the soul as a deep, pure, comprehensive, wonderful knowledge. . . . The author of the epistle ascribed to Bamabas, Justin Martyr, Clement, Origen, are all conspicuous instances.” [4] These four men, so conspicuous for the manifestation of Gnostic characteristics, are also the men most conspicuous for allegorizing the Scriptures, spiritualizing the Sabbath, and giving us our early information concerning Sunday observance. [5]


Little is known concerning Barnabas. About all the information we have is that an epistle has come down to us with his name attached to it. Its value and importance we shall have to derive from the epistle itself. It is apparent that whoever the author was, he was strongly under the influence of the Gnostics, for he adhered to their methods and principles.

You will notice that he uses the Gnostic method of allegorizing the Scriptures, and by it nullifies their teaching. You will also observe that he is strongly anti-Jewish and anti-sabbatic, and tries to find a reason for the observance of Sunday, which he calls the eighth day. Note his words and the method he uses.

He writes, “It is written concerning the Sabbath in the decalogue which He [the Lord] spoke face to face to Moses on Mt. Sinai. 'And sanctify you the Sabbath of the Lord with clean hands and a pure heart.' And He says in another place, 'If My sons keep the Sabbath, then will I cause My mercy to rest upon them.' “ He speaks of the Sabbath at the beginning of creation, “ 'And God made in six days the works of His hands and made an end, on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.' Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, 'He finished in six days.' This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years. . . . And He Himself testifies, saying, 'Behold, today will be as a thousand years.' “Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. 'And He rested on the seventh day.' This means: When His Son coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day. . . . Further, He says to them, 'Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure.' You perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, . . . when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore also we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead, and when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.” [6]

Whoever this writer was, he evidently endeavored to give the seventh day an allegorical interpretation, applying its observance to the kingdom of heaven. He also gave a mystical reason for the observance of the eighth day. This is the first historical reference to the observance of Sunday by a professed Christian-probably between 140 and 150 A.D.

Justin Martyr

We come to know Justin by his own writings. He tells of his early life, and his experience with the different philosophers, and his final conversion. His first experience was with the Stoics. Later he joined himself to a teacher of the philosophy of Aristotle, then to a Pythagorean, and finally to a Platonist. After that, one day he met an old man, a Christian, who told him of the Christian religion. Justin accepted a form of Christianity, and began to teach it to others, but always in the garb of a philosopher, for his ideas were tinged with Gnosticism.

Although Justin Martyr became one of the great church Fathers, yet his early training in the philosophies of his time prepared him for the work he endeavored to do in bringing in a more sympathetic feeling toward Greek and Oriental philosophies. He seems never fully to have shaken off those early influences. He believed there was considerable good in all religions, and states, “Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians. . . . For all the writers were able to see realities darkly through the sowing of the implanted word that was in them. [7] This indicates that Justin was never weaned from his old heathen ways. Professor Workman says, “It is not surprising, therefore, that with Justin Martyr, we began the triumph of Hellenic culture, and the modification of the primitive simplicity of Christianity.” [8]

Sunday Worship

Justin is the man who gives us our first definite and reliable statement that the people where he worshiped came together and had the Lord's supper on Sunday. He wrote, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together into one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying, Amen.” [9]

A great deal of Justin's writings is given over to a discussion with Trypho, the Jew, about their worship. He is bitterly opposed to the Jews and their worship, and bitterly attacks the idea of Sabbath observance of every form. He wrote that everyone, including himself, would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if he did not know for what reason they were enjoined upon the Jews-namely, because of the transgressions of the people and the hardness of their hearts. “Wherefore, Trypho,” he wrote, “. . . do you see that the elements are not idle, and keep no Sabbaths? Remain as you were born. For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts, and sacrifices before Moses; no more need is there of them now.” [10] “The new law requires you to keep perpetual Sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you; and if you eat unleavened bread, you say the will of God has been fulfilled. The Lord ' our God does not take pleasure in such observances: if there is any perjured person or a thief among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true Sabbaths of God.” 11

Therefore, according to Justin the Lord takes no pleasure in Sabbath observance. This is the second man we find who opposed Sabbath observance, and this was about the middle of the second century.

Reason for Sunday Observance

Justin also mentions Sunday as a special day. Here are his words: “Now, sirs, I said, it is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import, which the seventh day did not possess and which was promulgated by God through these rites.” “The command of circumcision, again, bidding (them) always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, (namely through) our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, . . . and (yet) remains the first.” [12]

Thus we see that Justin allegorizes the Sabbath in a way that is very similar to the method used by Barnabas. He mentions a certain mysterious import connected with the eighth day that gave it special significance, and then he connected this eighth day with the first. These are the first two men to give us any definite instruction regarding Sunday observance in the church. But both of them followed the Gnostic method of interpreting the Scriptures, and both of them followed the Gnostics in considering Sunday a day of special importance.

Clement of Alexandria

The next great man to be considered is Clement of Alexandria, who lived and taught during the last of the second century. He goes farther than either of his predecessors in his Gnostic methods. He seems to have been wholly enamored with the philosophy of Plato, and publicly advocated Gnostic principles. Clement occupied a profoundly interesting position in the history of Christianity. “He is the first to bring all the culture of the Greeks and all the speculations of the Christian heretics to bear on the exposition of Christian truth.” [13]

When Clement turns his eyes upon philosophy, he can hardly find words to express his admiration. “ 'There is one river of truth,' he says, 'but many streams fall into it on this side and on that.' . . . No such language had been heard since the time of Justin Martyr, and it gave great offense to those whom Clement calls the Orthodoxasts. . . . But what use did Clement make of his philosophy? He sets entirely upon one side the Fathers of the New Testament, and launched upon the church the Neoplatonic doctrine of the absolute God.” [14] He felt that there was now no need for anyone to go to the Gnostics, for “the church can satisfy every desire of the intelligence. Christian theology is the true Gnosis, the perfect Christian is the true Gnostic.” [15]

Very little is known of Clement's early life. It was in his later years that he came to prominence as a teacher in the catechetical school of Alexandria. But he was a great lover of Greek philosophy and of the Gnostic method of interpreting the Scriptures. This catechetical school, the first of its kind in the church, was established by Pantaenus, who was said to have been a pagan philosopher before his conversion. Clement was his student and later became his successor as a teacher in the school. But Clement was so imbued with the spirit of Gnosticism that for a time it was questionable whether he was going to be able to maintain his position in the church. He not only did not believe that it was wrong to worship the heavenly bodies, but actually taught that they had been ordained for that purpose.

Hear his words: “He [God] gave the sun, and the moon, and the stars to be worshiped; 'which God,' the law says, made for the nations, that they might not become altogether atheistical, and so utterly perish.” [16] So much for an introduction to Clement and his philosophical ideas.

Clement Rejects the Sabbath

Now what has he to say about the day of worship? Why, he uses a strange, mystical, Gnostic method to show that the seventh day was instituted because of men's ills, and was only a preparation for the more important and primal day, the first day of the week, the day on which light was created. Then he proceeds to show by his allegorical methods that the eighth day is really the seventh day referred to in the Old Testament Scriptures.

This is what he says, “And the fourth word is that which intimates that the world was created by God, and that He gave us the seventh day as a rest, on account of the trouble that there is in life. . . . The seventh day, therefore, is proclaimed a rest-abstraction from ills-preparing for the primal day, our true rest; which, in truth, is the first creation of light, in which all things are viewed and possessed. . . . The eighth may possibly turn out to be properly the seventh, and the seventh manifestly the sixth, and the latter properly the Sabbath, and the seventh a day of work. For the creation of the world was concluded in six days . . . . The Pythagoreans, as I think, reckon six the perfect number . . . . As marriage generates from male and female, so six is generated from the odd number three, which is called the masculine number, and the even number two, which is considered the feminine. For twice three is six.” [17]

Such is the idea of Clement on the Sabbath question. He did not believe that it should be kept, and he tried to show that the eighth day was the all-important day.

Clement and the Lord's Day

Clement is the first man who unequivocally used the expression “Lord's day” for the first day of the week. What is his source of authority for it? It is Plato. This is what he says, “And the Lord's day Plato prophetically speaks of in the tenth book of the Republic, in these words, 'And when seven days have passed to each of them in the meadow, on the eighth day they are to set out and arrive in four days.' [18] This instruction was from the great Clement of Alexandria, the teacher in the catechetical school where priests, bishops, and missionaries were trained for their gospel work. What effect did this have upon Christianity? “The Alexandrians mark a stage in a conflict which ended in a compromise. The great Gnostics of the second century had been unable to maintain their footing in the church. Clement succeeded in doing so, though not without suspicion.” [19]

Barnabas, Justin, and Clement are three great men of the church who were tinged with Gnosticism. They are also the three who give us our first information regarding Sunday observance. Barnabas applies Sabbath keeping to the kingdom of heaven, and said that in his time they kept the eighth day. Justin said the Sabbath was given to the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts, and the eighth day was more important because it had a mystical significance which the seventh had not. Clement nullified the Sabbath by a process of Pythagorean reasoning, and said the important day was the eighth. Justin is also the first man we know who gives a clear statement about regular Sunday services, and Clement is the first to apply the expression “Lord's day- to Sunday.

7. Sunday in Asia in the Second Century

The men from Alexandria, who were previously considered, are often quoted as though they were representative of their time; but they were not. They were representative of Alexandria, but not of the rest of the empire. Even before the Christian Era, during the latter part of the Jewish dispensation, Alexandria had been considered unorthodox by the Jews of Palestine. At Alexandria lived Philo the Jew, who was enamored with Plato's philosophy, and introduced the allegorical method of interpreting the Scriptures, which was later taken over by the church at that place.

Church in Asia Minor Opposes Alexandrian Theology

But the Jews from Jerusalem stood for the old Jewish religion of the law and the prophets, unmixed and uncontaminated by Greek philosophy and Oriental influences. This was the religion of the people for whom Jesus and the early apostles labored. From this center the early disciples came, and from here they went out to evangelize the world. It was from this influential center that Paul, Peter, James, and John, and all the other apostles labored. Their center of activity was Jerusalem as long as that city stood. But after the Jewish war, it could no longer be used as such. Then their headquarters were transferred to Antioch. This city remained the center of activity for the orthodox Christians for years after the fall of Jerusalem. W. R. Inge says of it: “The school of Antioch led a revolt against the Alexandrian exegesis of Holy Scripture, and founded a more critical method.” [1] “The church of the second century rang with alarm, and the consequence was that all the Christian writers of that period, except Justin Martyr and Clement [2] of Alexandria, shrank with horror from the very name of philosophy.” [3]

This clearly indicates that the men from Alexandria were in no way representative of the church in other places. More than that, it clearly shows that an opposition to their teaching developed in the section of the country in which Antioch was located.

Now this was the section in which the apostles lived and labored so faithfully and long. This is the area which stood firm for the teaching of the apostles and bitterly opposed the coming in of any change not in harmony with their teaching and practice. Here in Asia Minor the apostle John lived until the very close of the first century. Here Polycarp, a companion and friend of John, carried on the work laid down by that apostle until the middle of the second century, and in the later years of his life went to Rome and opposed the Gnostics and brought many back into the fold. Here Irenacus was born and reared; here he lived until 177A.D.,when he was transferred to Lyons.

Polycarp Loyal to the Apostles

Irenaeus was a close friend of Polycarp, and wrote that Polycarp “was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried (on earth) a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time.” [4]

Notice the points he makes. First, he had associated with Polycarp, who had been with the apostles of Jesus. Polycarp recalled what the apostles taught, and had carefully reassured, for his followers, those things which had been handed down to the church; and these, and these alone, all the Asiatic churches accepted as truth. Consequently, the teaching of the apostles, and Polycarp, and Irenaeus, and the Asiatic churches agreed.

By way of summary we have the following:
1. The churches of Asia were a united group and received their faith direct from the apostles.
2. They were constantly very particular to trace all their teaching back to the apostles.
3. The church had been very careful to keep out all foreign sentiments.
4. No other teaching was tolerated, because that and that alone was true.
5. This was the testimony of all the Asiatic churches.
6. The apostles and Polycarp, with his associates. and Irenaeus and all the Asiatic churches, kept the Sabbath down to the last of the second century.
7. In specifying the Asiatic churches, Irenaeus infers that there were some elsewhere who did not testify to this.

All this indicates that there was a division in the church at this time. Because of the Gnostic tendencies in the church at Alexandria, the churches of Asia, with Antioch at their head, took a decided stand against that tendency, and fell more decidedly back upon the practice of testing all their doctrines by the teaching of the early apostles. And here they were particularly able to test their faith because of the long labors in those parts of men like the apostle John and Polycarp, whose lives overlapped for so many years.

Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Theophilus Kept the Sabbath

Irenaeus tells us that so long as he lived, the churches of Asia Minor followed the teaching of the apostles, and that these churches were all united and unanimous in their teaching and practice. We have already learned that the apostles, so far as the records show, always kept the Sabbath. What about those other men who followed the apostles? The history of Polycarp reads: “Now, the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the month Xanthicus just begun, the seventh day before the Kalends of May, on the great Sabbath, at the eighth hour.” [5] Now the great Sabbath was at a time when the Sabbath of a feast came at the same time as the weekly Sabbath. This was a day of special importance to them. Thus the indications are that the people who associated with Polycarp kept the Sabbath.

But what about Irenaeus? What does he say about the Sabbath? He wrote, “The Lord did not abrogate the natural (precepts) of the law, by which man is justified.” [6] “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.” 7 “And in Exodus, God says to Moses: 'And you shall observe My Sabbaths: for it shall be a sign between Me and you for your generations. [7]

Irenaeus certainly was a Sabbath keeper. Thus far the men from this section seem to agree in their theology and their attitude toward the decalogue and the day of worship. There is another man from these parts by the name of Theophilus whom we must consider. In the last part of the second century he was appointed bishop of Antioch, the city that revolted against the Alexandrian teaching. Since he lived at the end of the second century, when Sunday worship was well established in Alexandria, and after Irenaeus and the other fathers had gone from this section, his teaching should throw some light on the question before us. He has nothing whatsoever to say about Sunday, and only indirectly discusses the Sabbath. But he says enough about it in his discussion of the creation to reveal his attitude and practice. He wrote, “On the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create.” [9]

Ignatius and the Sabbath

There is yet one more Father of this century whom we have not considered; that is Ignatius. He was living about 110 AD., and was a bishop of Antioch, the city that revolted against the Alexandrian teaching. He was evidently a good man, and a close friend of Polycarp, who had been a companion of the apostle John. Polycarp seems to have believed in the writings of Ignatius and was sympathetic toward them, for he wrote that they “treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord.” [10] This seems to indicate that Polycarp and Ignatius agreed in principle and practice.

Now the epistle to the Magnesians, which Ignatius is supposed to have written, contains the following: “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death.” [11] And "After the observance of the Sabbath let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's day." [12]

Those are very strange statements for the bishop of Antioch to make, a contemporary and associate of the apostle John and of Polycarp, and from the city that revolted against the teaching of the Alexandrian school. It is entirely in harmony with that of the so-called Barnabas, and Justin Martyr, but is foreign to any of his own associates. How can we account for the foregoing statements, so different from the teaching of his associates, who apparently were sympathetic toward him, and yet could not tolerate anyone whose doctrines were diverse from their own, and this in view of the fact that Irenaeus wrote that all the people were agreed in their teaching? This seems to bring us to a dilemma, for these statements cannot all be true. Either Polycarp and Irenaeus, who lived at that time, did not know what they were writing about when they said they all agreed, or Ignatius did not make those statements. The evidence we have (outside of these words in this letter) indicates that Irenacus told the truth, and that the men there agreed in their teaching. I will now produce this evidence.

How Many Epistles of Ignatius?

Here is the situation: Ignatius evidently wrote some letters, for both Polycarp and Eusebius tell about them. How many did he write? That is the question. Polycarp does not state, and Eusebius, who lived about two hundred years afterward, says there were seven.

Ignatius for many years has been a puzzle to scholars. During the time of the Reformation there were supposed to have been fifteen epistles written by him. Now the editor of the 'Anti-Nicene Fathers” says, “It is now the universal opinion of critics that the first eight of these professedly Ignatian letters are spurious. . . . They are now by common consent set aside as forgeries.” [13]

The Spurious Epistles

The difficulty with Ignatius is that we do not know what he wrote. One collection contains fifteen epistles ascribed to him, and each one much longer than those in the other group. Another collection in Greek has only seven epistles, and these are much shorter than the same epistles in the collection of fifteen. Then there is still another collection in Syriac of only three epistles (to the Ephesians, the Romans, and Polycarp), and each of these is still shorter than the same epistles in the other two recensions.

So how many epistles did Ignatius actually write? No one now believes that he wrote fifteen. Clearly eight have been forged in his name. And the remaining seven have been so interpolated by forgeries and additions that we are not sure what Ignatius really said. If the last collection of three shall prove to be a recension of the actual books that Ignatius wrote (which many scholars contend to be the case), then there would be no letter by Ignatius to the Magnesians, and nothing said by him about either the Sabbath or Sunday.

Only Three Epistles Quoted by Fathers

Now, strange to say, the Fathers who lived during this period of over two hundred years between Ignatius and Eusebius quoted from each of these three Syriac epistles mentioned above and from these three only--not a word from any of the others. This might indicate that the other four were forged in the latter part of the third century.

Dr. Gerhard Uhlhorn says, “A large number of scholars declared substantially for this view [of only three epistles], though still more refused their assent.” [14]

If we accept the position of the scholars who accept the last collection as the real epistles of Ignatius, there is no Sabbath or Sunday difficulty, for the only place in which they are alluded to is in the letter to the Magnesians, and that letter is not in the last recension. If we accept the seven shorter ones, we still have trouble, because we do not know just how much has been interpolated. So Ignatius seems to be a broken reed upon which to lean in any doctrinal controversy.

Ignatius an Unreliable Source

It seems to me incredible to think that Ignatius, who was so intimately associated with these other men of his time, could have been so different in point of view from them when Irenaeus said they all agreed. Philip Schaff says, “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.” Then in a note he adds, 'Baur and the Tubingen critics reject the entire Ignatian literature as forgery.” [15]

In view of the different recensions and the many interpolations of the epistles of Ignatius, I cannot see how we are going to be able to find out what he said. So how can his writings be taken as evidence in any controversy? Then I find these words at the conclusion of the article on Ignatius in the Schaff-Flerzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, which give a summary of the best scholarly results on this question: “It seems highly probable that even the shorter Greek form has suffered extensive interpolation, how extensive no one is in a position to determine. The cautious student of the history of polity and doctrine will decline to base important conclusions on the unsupported testimony of these writings.” [16]

We shall follow this advice. On the question of Sunday observance he not only has no support for his strange opinions, but is opposed by all others of his day. So we seem justified in concluding that all the men of Asia agreed on this question and were in accord with Irenaeus. If that is the case, then all these men kept the Sabbath and knew nothing about Sunday observance.

Pliny's Letter on Sabbath Observance

According to the substantiated apostolic literature of Asia Minor (excluding that of Ignatius), it is conclusive that the Asiatic Christians observed only the traditional Sabbath, the seventh day. However, there is the letter that Pliny wrote to Trajan to be explained. This letter seems to indicate that there was some trouble with the Christians in Pontus, where he was governor. In explaining this trouble to Trajan, Pliny described the arguments raised against Christians as follows: “They affirmed that the whole of their guilt or error was that they [the Christians] met on a certain stated day before it was light, and addressed themselves in a form of prayer to Christ, as to some God.” [17]

The question is, To what day does he refer when he mentions “a certain stated day”? The only plausible conclusion is that it was the seventh day, the day mentioned in apostolic literature. Pliny states that this people met on a certain stated day, not days. This implies that they were not meeting on two days, as was the custom in Alexandria at this early time, but were observing only one day, and that day the seventh, for the available literature clearly shows that the seventh day was the only day observed in this section of the country. Therefore, Pliny, in writing of a certain stated day, adds nothing to the support of Sunday observance.

8. Events and Changes in the Second Century

To those who are inclined to believe that the Christians of the first century recognized Sunday as a day of worship, we wish to state that such belief must rest upon assumption and not upon historical evidence. There is not only no reliable historical data for Sunday observance in the first century, but there is also no undisputed evidence for it in the second century in the land of Syria and Asia. And there are strong indications that the church there was strongly antagonistic toward Roman and Alexandrian ways, which were allowing heathen customs to enter. Syria and Asia were opposed to any practice not instituted by the apostles.

The Jewish War

So long as Jerusalem stood and was the center of influence in the church, it was practically impossible to depart very far from Jewish practices. With the fall of Jerusalem, however, the Christians were scattered and began to depart from those traditions. After the Jewish war of 69 and 70 AD., the Jews returned and partially reestablished their temple worship.

Although there was nominal peace, yet massacres and revolts kept breaking out at intervals. Finally, during the later years of the reign of Trajan, probably about 115 AD., a revolt of the Jews broke out in Egypt that was summarily put down with great massacres of the Jews. This revolt spread to Cyrene and Cyprus, where it was dealt with in a similar manner. At the death of Trajan, 117 AD., Hadrian, who was in charge of the militia in Cyprus, succeeded to the office of emperor. At first he tried to deal leniently with the Jews, in an endeavor to bring about peace. But his efforts seemed unappreciated and futile, and he soon changed his tactics and seriously proscribed Jewish liberty, making it unlawful for them to carry on their services, or circumcise their offspring, or keep the Sabbath. For a time the Jews reluctantly endured these restrictions, but finally Bar Cocheba appeared, claiming to be the star of promise, the Messiah, and said that he had come to deliver them from the oppression of the Roman dominance. As a result, war broke out anew and raged fiercely for about three years. Finally this revolt failed and was put down with great severity, and the Jews were driven out of their country and forbidden to return.

Eusebius describes the outcome of this conflict and the siege of Jerusalem as follows: “When the siege had lasted a long time, and the rebels had been driven to the last extremity by hunger and thirst, and the instigator of the rebellion had suffered his just punishment, the whole nation was prohibited from this time on, by a decree and by the command of Hadrian, from ever going up to the country about Jerusalem. For the emperor gave orders that they should not even see from a distance the land of their fathers.” [1]

Gentile Influence Established

Doctor Rainy says: 'Palestine was laid waste; Jerusalem under the name of Aelia Capitolina became a Gentile city, equipped with all the pomp of pagan worship. Circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and instruction in the law, were prohibited everywhere; and no Jew might enter Jerusalem. [2]

At the close of this war the Jews were defeated and driven out of their country, and were not permitted to return, according to Doctor Rainy. Pagan worship was set up in Jerusalem, and the Jewish ritualistic temple service ceased. That meant also that it was no longer carried on anywhere else, for the Jewish law forbade it outside of Jerusalem, and the Jews could no longer enter there. So Jewish ritualistic services ceased at the close of this war, 135 AD.

Up to the time of this war there had been close affinity between Jewish and Christian practices. Eusebius says, “Their whole church consisted then of believing Hebrews, who continued from the days of the apostles until the siege which took place at this time.” [3] And Professor Case informs us: “The early disciples described in the book of Acts apparently had no thought of severing traditional religious connections, or of establishing any movement outside the pale of Judaism. . . . Loyalty to the religion of their fathers is one of the best attested characteristics of the early Christians. . . . Thus they had no desire to break with Judaism, and did not even think of themselves as a separate sect.” [4]

But now a distinction comes in, and the Christians must make that distinction in order that they themselves may continue their worship in proscribed Jewish areas. The Jews could no longer enter Jerusalem. Could the Christians? Note the words of Eusebius, the church historian, on this point, and the distinction he made. He says, “The church was collected there [at Jerusalem] of the Gentiles; the first bishop after those of the circumcision, was Marcus.” [5] Before that time the bishops had been of the circumcision, or Jews; now they are of the Gentiles, because the Gentiles are the only ones who can come there to worship. Therefore we can see here a very decided change of attitude in Christian worship at this time.

Anti-Jewish Feeling

From this time on the Christians desired to differentiate as much as possible between themselves and the Jews. An anti-Jewish sentiment began to come in because the Christians did not wish to give any basis for being classified as Jews, and therefore tried to get as far as possible from Jewish ritual. We hear such remarks as, “Whoever loves the Jews. . . . should not enter in amongst them [Christians] and ministers.” [6]

This feeling increased as time went on, and finally we hear Constantine say, “Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd. [7] He also passed a law to the effect that “no Christian should remain in servitude to a Jewish master.” [8]

The third Synod of Orleans passed a law that “Christians must not marry with Jews, nor even eat with them.” [9]

At the Synod of Laodicea (about 365 AD.) they passed a decree that “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday [“Sabbath,” original]. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out [anathema] from Christ.” [10]

Thus we see that this anti-Jewish sentiment forced the church to make some decided changes in its practice and organization. Also about this time another important movement was seriously affecting the church.

Gnosticism Prevails

To understand why the church took the attitude it did regarding the day of worship, we must understand something of its condition. Clement and Origen, teachers in the Christian school at Alexandria, were enamored with the Neoplatonic philosophy of Ammonius Saccas and Plotinus. These men believed that the great principles of truth were to be found in all religions. There might be different names of God and expressions of faith, but the fundamental, underlying principles were all the same. Thus they were accepting the tenets of faith of the religions in their midst, and becoming like them.

Doctor Harnack, a church historian, says, “More than any before it, the second century is the century of religious fusion, of 'Theocrasia.' The problem was to include Christianity in this religious fusion, as one element among others, although the chief. The 'Hellenism' which made this endeavor had already attracted to itself all the mysteries, all the philosophy of Eastern worship, elements the most sublime and the most absurd, and by the never-failing aid of philosophical, that is to say, of allegorical interpretation, had spun them all into a glittering web. It now fell upon--I cannot help so expressing it--the Christian religion; it was impressed by the sublime character of this religion; it did reverence to Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world; it offered to give up everything that it possessed--all the treasures of its civilization and its wisdom --to this message, if only the message would suffer them to stand. As though endowed with the right to rule, the message was to make its entry into a ready-made theory of the world and religion, and into mysteries already prepared for it. What a proof of the impression which this message made, and what a temptation. This 'Gnosticism'-such is the name this movement has received-strong and active in the plentitude of its religious experiments, established itself under Christ's name, developed a vigorous and abiding feeling for many Christian ideas, sought to give shape to what was still shapeless, to settle accounts with what was externally incomplete, and to bring the whole stream of the Christian movement into its own channels.” [11]

“The first stage of any real influx of definitely Greek thought and Greek life is to be fixed at about the year 130. It was then that the religious philosophy of Greece began to effect an entrance, and it went straight to the center of the new religion. It sought to get into inner touch with Christianity, and conversely, Christianity itself held out a hand to this ally.” [12]

Influence of the Jewish War

The second century was an important period in the history of the church. It was a period of great changes, a period when the church was struggling with Gnosticism, and when many of the Gnostic opinions were entering the church in the Alexandrian area. When did these ideas begin to enter?

Harnack says, “The first stage of any real influx of definite Greek thought and Greek life is to be fixed at about the year 130.”[12] However, this is just the beginning. It was at the time of the Jewish war that the attitude of the Christian church toward the Jews and their rituals was so seriously changed. This war resulted in the Jews' being driven out of their country, thus causing their ritual service to cease. Following this, a great odium fell upon the Jews. But this state of affairs did not develop in a day. It must have been going on all through the war, which continued intermittently for some twenty years. But at its close the fruition was reached, and Christians of Jewish extraction also suffered with their race. For this reason the Christians tried to make as great difference between themselves and the Jews as possible. And it was because of this that they were forced to change the leadership among the Christians at Jerusalem, which had been the headquarters of the church, from pro-Jew to pro-Gentile bishops. Following this there developed and extended a decided anti-Jewish feeling in the church, with an agitation for Christians to keep as far as possible from Jewish practices.

Anti Jewish Sentiment Brings Sunday

About the time of the Jewish war we hear the first anti Jewish sentiments among the Gnostics. At first the Gnostics were pro-Jewish, but by 135 AD. they considered the Demiurge the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Him they now rejected, and became anti-Jewish.

Just at the time of the Jewish war “the Gnostic, Basilides, taught in Alexandria.” And just about that time and at this place we find the first Gnostic sentiments entering the church. Immediately following the Jewish war, or about 140 AD., another Gnostic, Valentinus, left Alexandria and went to Rome and began to teach his doctrines there. His work resulted in numbers' accepting his faith, which seriously affected the church. It might have been as disastrous there as at Alexandria had it not been for the work of Polycarp, a companion and associate of the apostle John. When he heard of the work of Valentinus, he left his home in Asia Minor and went to Rome and “caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretic to the church of God.”-Irenaeus, “Against Heretics,” book 3, chap. 3.

Before the year 130 AD. we can find no authentic statement for Sunday observance anywhere outside of heathenism.

Soon after this, however, probably between the years 140 and 150 AD., we get our first reference to Sunday as a day of worship in the church, and that from men tinged with Alexandrian Gnostic notions. Philip Schaff says of Justin Martyr, “He may be called, in a loose sense, a Christian Platonist.... From the time of Justin Martyr, the Platonic philosophy continued to exercise a direct and indirect influence upon Christian theology. . . . We can trace it especially in Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.” [13] It is from Barnabas and Justin that we get our first sure reference to Sunday as a day of worship, about 140 or 150 AD., and it is from Clement, about 190 AD., that we get our first sure reference to it as the Lord's day. What does all this mean? It means that Sunday observance came into the church from paganism through the influence of Gnosticism.

Williston Walker, professor of church history at Yale University, said, “This Old Catholic Church developed its distinguishing characteristics between 160 and 190.” “Thus out of the struggle with Gnosticism and Montanism came the Old Catholic Church.” “Here a union of what was best in ancient philosophy, chiefly Platonism and Stoicism, was affected to a degree nowhere else realized in orthodox circles, and the result was a Christian Gnosticism.” [14]

While the Catholic Church was developing, it was absorbing these Alexandrian ideas. At first there was strong opposition to it from Asia Minor. But later this Alexandrian influence permeated to the rest of the empire and was adopted into the church. Doctor Harnack says, “The Catholic Church had its origin in the struggle with Gnosticism. It had to pay a heavy price for the victory which kept that tendency at bay; we may almost say that the vanquished imposed their terms upon the victor.” [15]