Sabbath & Lord’s Day in Early Church Thought 2

Background to the Late 1st and Early 2nd Century

External Persecution

Trajan and Pliny. The governor of Bithynia from AD 109 to 111, Pliny the Younger, found his territory filled with Christians.22 Many pagan temples were abandoned in favor of the new religion.23 Pliny ordered Christians to sacrifice to the emperor.24 When they refused, Pliny executed them, unless they were Roman citizens, in which case they were sent to Rome for trial.25 Not feeling it just to execute Christians for obstinacy alone, he wrote to Trajan.26 Trajan advised Pliny not to seek after Christians, but to try and punish only those who had been directly accused of being Christian.27 In the cases of Ignatius and Justin Martyr, someone accused them of being Christians.

Internal Persecution

Ebionism.The Church had to face Judaizing heretics. Ebionism denied the virgin birth.28 Ebionites believed Jesus was fully human.29 They did not believe Jesus was God.30 The Ebionites required adherence to both the Mosaic Law, and the new law of Christ, for salvation.31 Requiring adherence to the Mosaic Law is what concerns the subject of the Sabbath.

Ignatius and the Absurdity of Sabbath Observance

Ignatius was born around the time of Jesus Christ’s death, between AD 30 and 35.32 Tradition says that the Apostle John discipled Ignatius.33 He became known as theotokos, “God-bearer” or “born by God.”34 At the beginning of the second century, Ignatius became the bishop of Antioch.35 Antioch had been the birthplace of Paul’s missionary endeavors.36 It had been led by the Apostle Peter.37 After Peter, Euodius became the bishop of Antioch.38 Ignatius may have been bishop at the same time as Euodius, or after him.39 Ignatius was bishop over the second largest city in the Roman Empire.40 In addition to the large Christian community, Antioch had a large following of the above mentioned heresy.41

Martyrdom of IgnatiusTrajan, or a governor under his authority, came to Antioch requiring all people to sacrifice to the gods.42 Ignatius refusing to sacrifice, confessed Christ.43 For this confession, he was sent to Rome to be thrown to the beasts in the amphitheater.44 During his journey to Rome, Ignatius wrote epistles to the churches of Asia Minor. Within these writings, Ignatius defended the faith against heresy. Within his letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius attacked Ebionism, using the Sabbath as an example.

8.Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him.

9.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—whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead.

10.Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be ye salted in Him, lest any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savour ye shall be convicted. It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believeth might be gathered together to God.45

Thus, Ignatius answers the Sabbath questions about the day and the duration. According to Ignatius, the Old Covenant Law, including the Sabbath command, was temporary and proleptic, looking forward to its fulfillment in Christ. Instead of resting and worshiping on Saturday, Christians observed the day on which Christ rose from the dead as a remembrance. For a Christian to rest on the Sabbath is to be “insensible to [God’s] kindness.” For a Christian under the law of grace to return to the Mosaic Law is absurdity.

Barnabus and the Eschatological Sabbath

Barnabus (~AD 100) was an Alexandrian Jew. Despite his Jewish heritage, even that of Levitical descent, Barnabus wrote against Judaism and Ebionism. He believed that living according to the New Covenant leads to life. The Old Covenant leads to destruction.46 In the epistle bearing his name, Barnabus used eschatology to answer the Sabbath questions.

15.Further, it is also written concerning the Sabbath in the Decalogue which [the Lord] spoke, face to face, with Moses on Mount Sinai, “and sanctify ye 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.” The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: “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 implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, “Behold, to-day 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 meaneth: 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. 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 then 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 been first sanctified ourselves. Further, He says to them, “Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure.” Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] 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.47

Although Barnabus’ eschatological hermeneutic is faulty48, he agrees with Ignatius that the Sabbath rest was temporary, proleptic, and unacceptable to God in the present New Covenant era. Instead, Christians joyfully celebrate Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and His promised New Heavens and New Earth on the eighth day (first day or Sunday).

In the next ROAR, we will be addressing the Sabbath questions to Justin Martyr.


22. Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicean Christianity AD 100-325, vol. 2 of History of the Christian Church (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 46; Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1984), 40.
23. Ibid.
24. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 40.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. Ibid.
28. Millard Erickson, Systematic Theology, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 711.
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
31. Schaff, Ante-Nicean Christianity AD 100-325, 429.
32. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 41.
33. Schaff, Ante-Nicean Christianity AD 100-325, 48.
34. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 42.
35. Ibid.
36. Acts 13.
37. Schaff, Ante-Nicean Christianity AD 100-325, 654.
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid.
40. Ibid., 653.
41. Ibid., 654.
42. Ibid., 48.
43. Ibid.
44. Ibid.
45. Ignatius Epistle to the Magnesians 8, 9, 10, ed. and trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Ante-Nicene Fathers [ANF], American ed, vol. 1 (Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1885; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers: 2004), 63-64.; italics added for emphasis.
46. Alexander Roberts and To Weigel, Introduction to the Epistle of Barnabus, ANF, vol. 1, 133-135.
47. Barnabus Epistle of Barnabus 15, ANF, vol. 1, 146-147.
48. 2 Pet 3:8 is not a temporal equation. Peter’s point is that time does not matter to God, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

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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