The 2nd Century Rise of Anti-Sabbatarians (Part 1 of 2)

The 2nd Century Rise of Anti-Sabbatarians (Part 1 of 2)

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In March 2020 we did a three-part series discussing the rise of heresy in the second century (Click HERE to read Part 1). We looked at some of the events leading to this development, some of the common beliefs among heretics, and even specific teachers. Another result of this tumultuous time period was a strong strain of anti-Sabbath teaching.

One of the heretical teachers we reviewed was named Marcion. He began his teachings in the 140s AD in the city of Rome and flourished under the Roman Bishop Anicetus. Irenaeus wrote more about him:

“…he advanced the most daring blasphemy against Him who is proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets, declaring Him to be the author of evils, to take delight in war, to be infirm of purpose, and even to be contrary to Himself” (Irenaeus, Against All Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 27, Verses 1-2; emphasis mine).

He considered the God of the Old Testament to be a separate God from that of the New Testament. Moreover, he taught that the God of the Old Testament was the author of evil and contrary to Himself. Even his followers were called Christians.

“And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator….All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians…”  (Justin the Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 36, emphasis mine).

He sought to separate the Law of God from the Gospel message about salvation through Christ. Tertullian, writing about 200 AD, shared more about this heretic’s views on this subject matter.

“Marcion’s special and principal work is the separation of the law and the gospel” (Against Marcion, 1:19). His works “…aim at committing the gospel to a variance with the law, in order that from the diversity of the two documents which contain them, they may contend for a diversity of gods also” (ibid). Marcion is “…the author of the beach of peace between the gospel and the law…this peace remained unhurt and unshaken from Christ’s appearance to the time of Marcion’s audacious doctrine…” (ibid).

Tertullian explained that before Marcion, the law and the gospel were taught in harmony with each other. This statement agrees with other contemporaries of the time period, such as Hegesippus (see Fragments of Hegesippus, which we quoted in the first part of the series on heresy). Marcion especially hated the Sabbath.  Consider the following quote attributed to him:

“Since that day is the rest of the God of the Jews, who made the world and rested the seventh day, we therefore fast on that day, that we may not do anything in compliance with the God of the Jews” (Epiphinaus, Haers., Sec. 42, from Bingham, 1139).

He viewed another God as having created all matter. This also led him to reject the Sabbath since it is ultimately tied to Creation as God’s day of rest (Gen. 2:1-3). He desired to denigrate the Sabbath by labeling it as a ‘Jewish’ institution. He rejected all messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. He viewed Christ to be connected to a previously unknown God.

“Marcion has laid down the position, that Christ who in the days of Tiberius was, by a previously unknown god, revealed for the salvation of all nations, is a different being from Him who was ordained by God the Creator for the restoration of the Jewish state, and who is yet to come” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter 6).

Unfortunately, some of his teachings have persisted to the present. Many modern Christians think that the God of the Old Testament is a separate from that of the New Testament. They also label the Sabbath as ‘Jewish’ though the Scriptures never make that assertion.

Justin the Martyr – 161 AD

About this time, another man named Justin the Martyr also vigorously argued against the Sabbath. While declaring himself an opponent of Marcion, he agreed with him in some areas. He influenced the Bishops of Rome during the same time period.

About 160 AD, Justin the Martyr recorded a back and forth dialogue about Christianity between himself and a Jewish man named Trypho. One of the questions they addressed was whether Christians who obeyed the commandments of God could be saved. In this, Justin acknowledged that there were Christians who indeed followed the commandments.

“But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses, from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people’s hearts, along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren… But if, Trypho, I continued, some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them. But I believe that even those, who have been persuaded by them to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved” (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 47).

Justin stated that who believed in Jesus and still obeyed God’s commandments would “probably” be saved. At the same time, he was against them spreading their beliefs. Later in this dialogue, he falsely depicted the Sabbath as being given to the Israelites because of the hardness of their hearts. This is clearly not scriptural, as the Sabbath was revealed in Genesis.

“For we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you,–namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts” (ibid, chapter 18).

Moreover, he denied that the Sabbath had any connection to creation. He painted it as only a memorial of the Israelite redemption from Egypt (Apology, 19). He also believed the sun was an object of worship – at the very least in times past. “God formerly gave the sun as an object of worship…” (Diagloue with Trypho, CXXI). This is another very unscriptural point of view.

Other anti-Sabbatarian teachers would arise towards the end of the second century and continuing into the third. CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –

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