Responding to Peter, Part 2

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:

Josephus
“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.

Philo
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:

John
“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:

Paul
“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:

Egypt
“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.

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About Derek Leman

Rabbi, writer, Weight Watchers leader, blogger, geek. My main blog is DerekLeman.com/Musings and my health blog is LemansLoserBlog.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Christian, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Sabbath. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Responding to Peter, Part 2

  1. pbandj says:

    derek

    my purpose wasnt to throw so much info to have you unable to respond.

    however, i think you emphasized the first century and ignored the rest of the stuff.

    there is substantial info that i included. let me narrow down the argument to make it easier to respond to.

    ambrose, bishop of milan, kept the Sabbath, but when he was in rome, he honored sunday.

    the church in the east tended to observe the 7th day, as well as keep Passover and other things.

    this barely scratches the surface. i encourage anyone to research for themselves. but i think that derek misunderstood what i was saying. because i didnt say that early gentile believers didnt observe sunday. i said that they kept the 7th day Sabbath rest. i think this is substantial evidence that they did rest on saturday and worship on sunday. and i am not alone in my opinions. there are various church historians who have held the same view. check out justo gonzalez “history of christianity” volume 1. he doesnt make a big pt about it. but states that the early christians (referring to gentile believers) rested on saturday and after working or before working on sunday, they met as well to sing and have communion.

    now, dont get me wrong, i am not saying that gentiles kept the same practices as jews on the Sabbath. but i am saying that the early gentile christians rested on saturday, not sunday.

    and derek, i dont appreciate being reduced down to an adventist, because their interpretations and stances are crazy and not good history. however, there is good history that demonstrates a much much more balanced view. that there was many many gentile believers who rested on saturday and not on sunday.

    peter

  2. Peter, I think you are a bit harsh on the some 15 million of us who are a part of the Seventh-day Adventist faith. Our stances are certainly based solely on Scripture.

    The most interesting part of the discourse is that no one wants to admit that for centuries the Catholic church has shown that it was the body that officially changed the day of worship to Sunday.

    They maintain that they have the authority to do that, as God’s direct representative on this earth. All other Sunday-keeping groups are merely acquiescing to their authority.

    They even authorized an SDA theologian who graduated from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to publish his thesis, “From Sabbath to Sunday”, documenting the historical records of the church, and the decisions that were made to change the worship day.

    All that aside, it is not man’s tradition that should govern how we worship God. It should be His words to us that governs our relationship and our worship. Since there is no clear word from Him moving His declared day of worship to another day, I feel I should move to the more conservative side and try to “do as He did”.

  3. pbandj says:

    david

    i am sorry to have offended you. you are right that the SDA guys i know are genuinely trying to fulfill how they interpret Scripture. and i actually agree on many issues with SDA. but at the same time, i think there is too much emphasis on apocalyptic stuff that is all speculative. and i certainly dont hold that changing the Sabbath was/is the mark of the beast as National Sunday Law does.

    my apologies for my rude comments.

    peter

  4. PB and J says:

    derek

    i thought i would share with you the words of the Didache:

    Didache 8:1
    And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth) day.

    Didache 14:1
    And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.

    since you cited the Didache as evidence against early gentile christian resting on saturday, let me address that. first, let me draw your attention to 8:1. here, the text says to fast on “preparation day”. why would they call it preparation day if they werent preparing for Sabbath?

    next, look at the words of 14:1. it says that believers should gather together and break bread and give thanks, confessing, on the “Lord’s Day”. so what if they were to meet together on sunday? this doesnt have anything to do with resting on saturday. yes, the early christians did meet on sunday (like i pted out: either early at dawn or in evening) to celebrate the death and resurrection of Yeshua. but if you want to use the Didache, dont forget to read the whole thing. why would it refer to “preparation” if they werent preparing for anything?

    peter

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