Sabbath & Lord’s Day in Early Church Thought 1A

Much Ado About a Day

In 2008, I joined a non-denominational prayer and Bible study group at my place of work. Fairly soon after I joined, the leader of the group left, leaving the leadership divided between myself and the pastor of a Seventh Day Adventist church. This SDA pastor sought to convince the rest of the group that those who worship on Sunday are Sabbath-breakers worthy of damnation. One of the tools which he used to sway the group to his position was Church History.

The SDA pastor argued that Christians worshiped on Saturday from the time of the Apostles until the Ecumenical Synod of Laodicea around AD 343. The Synod, according to the SDA pastor, mixed pagan worship with Christianity, changing the day of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. By doing so, the bishops led the Church astray, making it apostate, until the 19th Century, when the Millerites and Ellen White restored true Christianity.

Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the SDA pastor, my in-laws bought me a complete set of Philip Schaff’s Church History, Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, including the Seven Ecumenical Councils. After hearing the SDA pastor’s twisted history lesson, I read the Canons of the Synod of Laodicea. The Synod actually condemned mixing pagan and Christian elements. The bishops did not switch the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. The Synod also ruled that resting on the Sabbath was “Judaizing,” worthy of anathema. This begs the question, why does most of the Church treat Sunday as the Sabbath?

What started as a study with which to reason with an adventist1 (a futile exercise), has become an exercise in Historical Theology. The initial question turned into several inquiries. How would the Church Fathers have answered the following questions?

1. What is the day of the Sabbath?
2. Is the Lord’s Day the same or a different day than the Sabbath?
3. Is any one day more holy than any other day?
4. Is the command to rest from work permanent and eternal, or temporary and anticipatory?
5. If it is temporary and anticipatory, to what does the Sabbath point?
6. Is the Sabbath rest a cessation of all works or some works?
7. If some works, what is permissible and prohibited?

To answer said questions, I turned back to my stack of books reading from Ignatius, Barnabus, Justin Martyr, Tertulian, Victorinus, Augustine of Hippo, and the Ecumenical Synods and Councils of the Church. I asked of these one final question. Are they right?

Both SDA and the majority of the Church believes that the Early Church switched the Sabbath to Sunday. For the next seven ROARs, I will be examining the Sabbath questions from the perspective of Church History and from Scripture.


1. Although the subject of discussion is the Sabbath, the heresy within the SDA Church is not Saturday observance. The heresy of the SDA is the belief in a two-stage atonement, in which Jesus’ death provided a partial atonement for a temporary forgiveness of sins. Satan will die to complete the atonement before God. Any set of beliefs that gives Satan credit for even a fraction of the atonement is heresy. Erwin Gane and Leo Van Dolson, This We Believe: a Study Guide to the Teachings of Seventh-day Adventists book 2, (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1993), 72.

About haroyce

Royce is an aspiring writer of fantasy, history, philosophy, and theology. He earned his BS in History from Cedarville College, and his MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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