Rising to the challenge I threw out, Peter has responded with numerous citations. He is probably using a secondary source (I wish he would name the source) with a list of citations. He has given so many I cannot respond to all of them. I do work seven days a week (rabbis don’t rest on Shabbat and this rabbi doesn’t even get to rest on Sundays).
Peter’s assertion is that many early Christians kept the Sabbath and did not participate in Sunday worship. My position is that Sunday worship was a fixture in Christian communities by the early second century. I am the first to admit that evidence of universal Sunday worship in the New Testament is completely overblown. Acts 20:7 was on the first day of the week, meaning Saturday night until Sunday at sundown (only Jews had weeks in the first century, so first day of the week had to mean by Jewish reckoning which starts at sundown). Since the events surrounding Acts 20:7 took place late at night, this was a Saturday night meeting, not a Sunday meeting. I’m sorry, Christian friends who use Acts 20:7 as if God commanded Sunday worship, but history is not on your side. Neither, however, is history on Peter’s side.
I will list some of Peter’s most important citations and respond. My goal is to show that Sabbath observance was not prominent in early Christianity. I am not trying to argue that Sunday worship is commanded by God. I am trying to show that Jews and Gentiles were distinct in the early church, at least in the early centuries.
First, Peter cites early Jewish authors:
“There is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the Barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day hath not come!” M’Clatchie, “Notes and Queries on China and Japan” (edited by Dennys), Vol 4, Nos 7, 8, p.100.
Declares the seventh day to be a festival, not of this or of that city, but of the universe. M’Clatchie, “Notes and Queries,” Vol. 4, 99.
Both Josephus and Philo here are referring to the widespread phenomenon of God-fearing Gentiles and Gentile converts in the synagogues. There is strong evidence that a large minority of Romans were drawn to Judaism. This citation has nothing to do with early Christians except to say that many of the first generation Christians came from Sabbath observant backgrounds.
Next, Peter cites John in Revelation and seeks to prove that Jon was speaking of Saturday:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” Rev. 1:10 (Mark 2:28, Isa.58:13, Ex.20:10, Clearly show the Sabbath to be the Lord’s day).
Peter I suggesting that because Yeshua called himself Lord of the Sabbath, John meant the Sabbath when he spoke of the the Lord’s Day. That is a weak connection. The leading theories of John’s phrase, the Lord’s Day, would be that it means either the Day of the Lord (judgment day) or Sunday. I have to admit the evidence is better for Sunday. John (arguably, I know there are many other theories) lived in Ephesus in Asia Minor and died in the late 90′s. Not long after, also coming out of Asia Minor, was the Didache, the earliest non-biblical Christian writing. The Didache, written maybe 20-30 years after Revelation and from the same region, uses the term “Lord’s Day” clearly for Sunday. The Didache indicates that Sunday worship was the norm in the Yeshua community. Quite possibly the Messianic Jews met on the Sabbath, but no sources exist to clarify.
Next, Peter cites Acts, mistaking Paul’s synagogue preaching for community meetings of the Yeshua followers:
“And Paul, as his manner was went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures” Acts 17:2
Paul And Gentiles
“And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. And the next Sabbath came almost the whole city together to hear the Word of God.” Acts 13:42, 44.
This is about Paul going into synagogues, not Yeshua-congregations, and preaching to the Jews and Gentile God-fearers. It has nothing to do with early Christian practice, except, again, to show that the earliest Christians came out of Sabbath keeping backgrounds.
Next, Peter cites various church historians and scholars from different time periods to the effect that early Christians kept the Sabbath. These citations tell us little since they are not from the early church. I will give one example, that of Jeremy Taylor, an English cleric in the time of Oliver Cromwell. Jeremy Taylor is an example of a Puritan who adopted Jewish customs. There was a movement in Puritanism to worship on Saturday and keep Passover and other feasts. This is a little discussed period of history that is fascinating. Yet it is far from a proof that many early Christians kept the Sabbath:
“The primitive Christians did keep the Sabbath of the Jews;…therefore the Christians, for a long time together, did keep their conventions upon the Sabbath, in which some portions of the law were read: and this continued till the time of the Laodicean council.” “The Whole Works” of Jeremy Taylor, Vol. IX,p. 416 (R. Heber’s Edition, Vol XII, p. 416).
Next, Peter has a very interesting citation. Whatever book he is getting these from (is it a Seventh Day Adventist book?), I have to congratulate them on finding this rather obscure, but important one. This is from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a group of papyrus fragments found in Egypt dated to the 200′s. They contain manuscripts of the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible. They contain pseudepigraphical literature and other writings as well. Here is a quote from one fragment:
gypt (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus) (200-250 A.D.)
“Except ye make the sabbath a real sabbath (sabbatize the Sabbath,” Greek), ye shall not see the Father.” “The oxyrhynchus Papyri,” pt,1, p.3, Logion 2, verso 4-11 (London Offices of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1898).
The problem with this is that we do not know the context of this papyrus fragment. It sounds like a Christian writer, since it says “the Father,” and it sounds as though this writer advocates Sabbath observance. I would love to know more. This sounds like genuine evidence that in some third-century Christian community, the Sabbath was observed. Is it possible, though, that Sabbath meant Sunday to this writer? How would we know?
Peter then cites a number of modern historians claiming that various church father either advocated Sabbath observance or were aware of Christian groups who did. This may be true, but we need original source citations, not modern historians making assertions. I’d love to have more original citations. Peter does give a few ancient citations, such as this one by fifth century bishop Sidonius Apollinarus:
Sidonius (Speaking Of King Theodoric Of The Goths, A.D. 454-526)
“It is a fact that it was formerly the custom in the East to keep the Sabbath in the same manner as the Lord’s day and to hold sacred assemblies: while on the other hand, the people of the West, contending for the Lord’s day have neglected the celebration of the Sabbath.” “Apollinaries Sidonli Epistolae,” lib.1, 2; Migne, 57.
This is a good citation. I would say this citation is good evidence that up until a certain date, Sabbath-keeping was practiced by some Christians in the East (Asia Minor? Syro-Palestine?). It does not demonstrate widespread Sabbath keeping in Eastern Christianity though, since the Didache tells us Sunday was the norm in Asia Minor by the Second Century.
In this citation, Sozomen, a fifth century Christian from Palestine, speaks of Egyptian Christian Sabbath-keeping:
“There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings, and, although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries.” Sozomen. “Ecclesiastical History Book 7, ch. 119.
Again, this reference makes it clear that some Christians kept the Sabbath in Egypt in the early history of the church. It actually disproves any widespread practice, saying that the majority custom was Sunday.
Peter, it is simply not true that Rome and Alexandria were the only exceptions to a universal Christian practice of keeping the Sabbath. Rather, the custom of the early church, as can be easily demonstrated with references from Ignatius, the Didache, and other sources, was Sunday worship. It was Sabbath keeping that was an exception and not the other way around. Still, I am glad to learn of these long-lingering pockets of Sabbath observance even until late in the Christian period. I wonder if these were Jewish believers (my theory). If so, that would fit my point: the Gentiles and Jews in the early church were united but distinct.