“Preachers and religious writers often wonder if their messages are simply sermons to the wind. Without a doubt many are. What makes an article or sermon have a constructive impact upon an audience? Is it the quality of the message or the attitude of the individual receiving it . . . or both?
“I might as well be talking to a brick wall,” is a common comment from exasperated parents after an encounter with their teenage kid. I’ve heard many preachers, teachers, and writers express similar frustrations believing their spiritual messages go in one ear, and without slowing down to visit the grey matter, exit the other ear. They wonder, is the audience dull, deaf, or just dumb?
Of course, the blame for fly-over sermons may need to be equally shared with the preacher whose poor content and delivery make his messages easily forgettable. Simply being able to talk louder than people can snore isn’t the top talent required of a preacher. More on a minister’s responsibility later…”
(this article is an excerpt from the July–August 2006 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)
To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 5, click this link:
The Mark of the Beast: An Early Church Perspective By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Imagine for a moment that you were an early Christian. What might you think about the Mark of the Beast? The first mention of this mark is in Revelation 13:15-17, which reads:
“15 The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. 17 Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number” (Rev. 13:15-17, NET).
In modern times, there has been much speculation about the Mark of the Beast. Some connect it with a spiritual practice in the Bible. Others connect it with a physical item such as a microchip or barcode. A third group tries to merge these two concepts. In this article, we want to look at the early Church perspective on this subject. Perhaps it will provide some clarify to the mysterious Mark of the Beast.
Conflict Between Kingdoms
The beliefs of Jewish people and early Christians brought them into conflict with the Greco-Roman culture around them. In many ways, the two groups were opposites.
The Judeo-Christian mindset was and still is monotheistic. There is one God who is to be worshiped alone. This mindset is exclusive in that no other gods could be added. Jewish people and early Christians did not try to represent God with images, idols, or statues. There was only one Temple on earth, the one in Jerusalem (which was destroyed in 70 AD).
On the other hand, the Greco-Roman mindset was that of a polytheist. They worshiped many gods who had temples spread throughout the Mediterranean world. There were statues, images, and idols depicting their appearance. Furthermore, their mindset was inclusive. That is to say – they were open to including other gods in their worship.
The mindset of Jewish people and early Christians was an enigma to the Greco-Roman mind. Polytheists did not understand why monotheists were unable to add the Greco-Roman gods to their one God. For this reason, monotheists were sometimes labeled atheists because they denied or were without the traditional gods. Needless to say – this brought conflict.
In about the year 67 AD, the Jewish people were framed for starting a fire in the city of Antioch. When the accusation about burning the city came forth, the people went into a frenzy to punish Jewish people. The mob gathered in the local theater and demanded punishment. This echoes an incident about three years before when Nero accused Christians of setting fire to Rome.
A certain Jewish leader, ironically named Antiochus, initiated a test to see who was true to the traditional gods. He tried to require people to make a sacrifice to the traditional gods. Those who refused were viewed as only loyal to the one true God of Judaism and thus determined to be guilty of arson. They were put to death. Josephus described these events:
“As for Antiochus, he increased the rage they were in, and thought to give them a proof of his own conversion, and of his hatred of the Jewish customs, by sacrificing after the manner of the Greeks; he urged them also to compel the rest of the Jews to do the same, because they would by that means discover who they were that had plotted against them, since they would refuse to do so; and when the people of Antioch tried the experiment, some few complied, and those that would not were slain…” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 7.3.3).
Starting in at least the early second century, Christians were given this same test. The earliest historical reference of this occurrence is found in the famous letter of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan regarding the trials of Christians in a province of Asia Minor.
“…An anonymous information was laid before me containing a charge against several persons, who upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and incense before your statue (which for that purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), and even reviled the name of Christ: whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances: I thought it proper, therefore, to discharge them…” (Letter 97)
In addition to the sacrifice-test, officials tried to coerce Christians to curse the name of Christ. Sometimes they were compelled to offer incense to the image of the emperor. Later, they were coerced into confessing that Caesar was their lord (to read more about this subject, click HERE).
The Mark of the Beast
To my knowledge, the first early Church writer to attempt to provide an explanation for the Mark of the Beast is Hippolytus. He wrote a work called “On Christ and Antichrist” in the early third century AD (about 200). In it, he said the following:
“By the beast, then, coming up out of the earth, he means the kingdom of Antichrist; and by the two horns he means him and the false prophet after him. And in speaking of the horns being ‘like a lamb’, he means that he will make himself like the Son of God, and set himself forward as king…Here the faith and the patience of the saints will appear, for he says: ‘And he will cause all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their forehead; that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name.’ For, being full of guile, and exalting himself against the servants of God, with the wish to afflict them and persecute them out of the world, because they give not glory to him, he will order incense-pans to be set up by all everywhere, that no man among the saints may be able to buy or sell without first sacrificing; for this is what is meant by the mark received upon the right hand. And the word — in their forehead — indicates that all are crowned, and put on a crown of fire, and not of life, but of death. For in this wise, too, did Antiochus Epiphanes the king of Syria, the descendant of Alexander of Macedon, devise measures against the Jews. He, too, in the exaltation of his heart, issued a decree in those times, that all should set up shrines before their doors, and sacrifice, and that they should march in procession to the honour of Dionysus, waving chaplets [wreath] of ivy; and that those who refused obedience should be put to death by strangulation and torture” (idem, section 49).
Hippolytus understood that the Mark of the Beast was connected to forced sacrifice. One had to use their hands to sacrifice and/or offer incense to other gods. He then stated that the mark on your forehead referred to a wreath that was sometimes placed upon the heads of the one offering the sacrifice.
To bolster his position, Hippolytus referenced the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. In about 168 BC, this Antiochus coerced the Jewish people to surrender their beliefs and then accept the Greek religion. His troops tried to force them to sacrifice and wear wreath crowns made from ivy. Those who did not were tortured or put to death. He viewed Antiochus Epiphanes reign of terror as a past event which foreshadowed the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast (To read more about Antiochus Epiphanes, CLICK HERE).
Hippolytus’ view on the Mark of the Beast finds corroboration in an inscription and papyri. The concept that officials promoted or mandated sacrifice and the wearing of a wreath is found in these ancient sources. We will look at some of them.
The first that we will discuss dates to the time of Augustus. On an inscription dating to about 2 AD, we learn that Augustus’ son Gaius was engaged in an intense battle which almost claimed his life. He escaped and eventually won a victory over the enemy. To commemorate this event, the governor of Achaia required people to wear wreaths and make sacrifices (SEG 23.206).
On the accession of Nero to be Emperor in 54 AD, a proclamation was made that people should wear garlands and offer sacrifices of oxen to thank the gods. It is not clear if this edict was regional or for the entire empire; it was found on a papyrus in Egypt. We have an excerpt below:
“The Caesar who was owed to his ancestors…the good genius of the world and source of all blessings, Nero Caesar, has been proclaimed. Therefore ought we all wearing garlands and with sacrifices of oxen to give thanks to all the gods. The 1st year of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the 21st of the month Neus Sebastus [November 17]” (Hunt and Edgar, pp 138-139).
Upon the accession of the Emperor Hadrian in 117, the people of Egypt were required to pray to the gods and wear wreaths for 10 days (P.Oxy. 55.3781). When Pertinax became emperor for a short time in 193, all the people in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt were required to publicly assemble to make sacrifice, offer prayers, and wear garlands for fifteen days (this event was near the time of Hippolytus). We have an excerpt from this decree below:
“It is fitting that you, O Alexandrians, holding festival for the most fortunate accession of our lord the Emperor Publius Helvius Pertinax the Augustus, head of the sacred senate, father of his country, and of Publius Helvius Pertinax his son, and of Flavia Titiana Augusta (Pertinax’s wife), should in full assembly make sacrifices and prayers on behalf of his lasting empire and of all his house and wear garlands for fifteen days beginning from to-day…” (Hunt and Edgar, pp 110-113).
Any situation that required prayers and sacrifices to the Greco-Roman gods would instantly create conflict between polytheists and Christians. It was (and is) against the Christian religion to perform such actions. These historical references provide more background to the persecution of Christians in the second century.
The second Christian writer who ascribed specific meaning to the Mark of the Beast was Cyprian. He lived during two times of intense persecution – the reigns of Decius and Valerian. He was martyred during the latter’s reign.
In 249, the Roman Emperor Decius forced everyone in the Empire to declare that from birth they had only sacrificed to the gods of Rome. Moreover, people were forced to be present at a sacrifice and eat some of it. They then had to sign a certificate called a libellus or certificate which confirmed these details.
This effort was part of a campaign to revive dedication to the traditional gods and to commemorate the 1,000-year anniversary of Rome’s founding. There has been papyri evidence of such a decree. For instance, 46 libelli from the reign of Decius have been found in Egypt.
Like in previous examples, this situation was problematic for Christians. Unfortunately, many Christians fell away and signed these certificates; they were labeled the lapsi because they were viewed as having lapsed from the faith. This falling away sparked a crisis in Christianity, which we will cover another time.
Leaders such as Cyprian thought that the world was ending and events in the book of Revelation were coming to pass. Cyprian expressed these thoughts in a letter to a Christian named Fortunatus. We have a quote from this treatise below:
“1. You have desired, beloved Fortunatus that, l since the burden of persecutions and afflictions is lying heavy upon us, and in the ending and completion of the world the hateful time of Antichrist is already beginning to draw near, I would collect from the sacred Scriptures some exhortations for preparing and strengthening the minds of the brethren, whereby I might animate the soldiers of Christ for the heavenly and spiritual contest…”
“3. What is God’s threatening against those who sacrifice to idols? In Exodus: ‘He that sacrifices unto any gods but the Lord only, shall be rooted out’ (Exodus 22:20)…” Cyprian then quotes a series of verses which mention the worship of idols/other gods (Deut. 32:17, Isaiah 2:8-9, Isaiah 57:6, Jeremiah 7:6)…“In the Apocalypse too: ‘If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, he shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in the cup of His wrath, and shall be punished with fire and brimstone before the eyes of the holy angels, and before the eyes of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torments shall ascend for ever and ever: and they shall have no rest day or night, whosoever worship the beast and his image’” (Rev. 14:9-11)…”
“12…In the Apocalypse also He says the same thing: ‘And I saw’, says he, ‘the souls of them that were slain for the name of Jesus and the word of God’. And when he had placed those who were slain in the first place, he added, saying: ‘And whosoever had not worshipped the image of the beast, neither had received his mark upon their forehead or in their hand;’ all these he joins together, as seen by him at one time in the same place, and says, ‘And they lived and reigned with Christ’. He says that all live and reign with Christ, not only who have been slain; but even whosoever, standing in firmness of the faith and in the fear of God, have not worshipped the image of the beast, and have not consented to his deadly and sacrilegious edicts…” (Treatise 11.1, 3, 12).
Cyprian understood the Mark of the Beast to be fulfilled in the edicts of sacrifice, such as what he experienced in the time of Decius. Those who were slain for refusing to comply with these edicts would be brought back to life in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6). As aforementioned, Cyprian was martyred for not conforming with the decree.
Hippolytus and Cyprian provide concrete applications for the Mark of the Beast in the early Church. Early Christians understood the Mark of the Beast to be connected to edicts which forced sacrifices to other gods. As discussed in this article, there is corroborating evidence to confirm that these events and edicts existed.
The textual evidence of Revelation is congruent with the interpretation of these early Church writers. In Revelation 13:11-18, the Mark of the Beast is connected to idolatry and the worship of other gods. The mention of the mark with the worship of the beast and its image is also mentioned in Rev. 14:9-11, 16:2, 19:20, and Rev. 20:4.
In conclusion, ancient peoples were sometimes required to worship other gods which involved the worship of images, the use of their hands, and sometimes a sign on their forehead. Christians who held to their faith refused to comply and thus could be punished in a number of ways, including death. Early Christians interpreted these events to be the Mark of the Beast. This interpretation is congruent with the textual evidence of Revelation 13 and the historical circumstances of their time.
Bibliography Cyprian. Treatise, 11.1, 3, 12. Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886. pp 496-506.
Hippolytus, On Christ and Antichrist, 49. Translated by J.H. MacMahon. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886. p 214.
Hunt, A.S. and Edgar, C.C., trans. Select Papyri in Five Volumes. Non-Literary Papyri Public Documents. vol. 2. Harvard University Press, 1963. pp 110-113, 138-139.
Josephus. Wars of the Jews, 7.3.3. Whiston’s Translation revised by Rev. A.R. Shilleto, Vol. 5, London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, 1889. pp 130-131.
“In the churches at large, both Protestant and Sabbath-keeping, gambling has been labeled as a sin. Is it really sin or is it something more damaging in terms of human behavior and addiction?
While sin is clearly defined as the breaking of God’s eternal law as summarized in the Ten Commandments, there is a correlation between some behaviors associated with addictive gambling that include coveting, lying, and having an idol in place of God. On the other hand, random gambling, such as buying an occasional lottery ticket just for the fun of it can hardly be put into the same category as addictive gambling. So how do we approach this subject?
Coveting is the desire to possess something that is not ours. When a person sees another’s money and belongings and yearns to have them, that is sin. When a person gambles on a regular basis for the purpose of obtaining money to gain what that person is coveting, by biblical standards this is certainly sin. On the other hand, if a person hopes to win the lottery and buys a lottery ticket on rare occasions, is this really covetousness or just a random act that is more for amusement or entertainment?…”
(this article is an excerpt from the September–October 2007edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)
To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 10, click this link:
Genesis 4:3-5 “3 At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock—even the fattest of them. And the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, 5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast” (NET).
Hebrews 11:4 “4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts: and through it he being dead yet speaketh” (ASV).
In Genesis, both Cain and Abel both brought an offering to the Lord. Abel’s offering was accepted by God, while Cain’s was not. Why is that? In Hebrews 11:4, we learn that Abel by faith offered “a more excellent sacrifice” than Cain.
The Greek word translated as “more excellent” can also mean something “greater in quantity or quality.” Abel brought a more generous, higher quality offering than Cain, who tried to bring leftovers or a sub-par offering. He even had a second chance to make it right with God but declined to do so (Gen. 4:6-7).
There are many situations in life where this example can be applied but consider for a moment our Sabbath observance. The Sabbath has a primary function of rest from the past week’s labor. This means we are in recovery mode. While we will be tired, we can still examine our approach to the Sabbath and especially the assembly with other believers.
Here are a series of questions for each of us to ask ourselves:
– Are we attentive to God’s Will for our lives or distracted by cares of this world?
– Are we there for the right reasons, or are we going through the motions?
– Is it just a social club or habit without any personal transformation/growth involved for us?
– Are we open to learning more about God and His ways on the Sabbath?
– Are we willing to help the Kingdom cause? (even prayer and personal growth are acceptable ways to contribute to His Kingdom)
The Sabbath is not a day for us to dump our leftovers on the day, such as those things which we didn’t get done throughout the week or weeks beforehand. It is not a day to pursue our pleasures but focus on those things which please Him (Isaiah 58:13-14).
While we are recovering on Sabbath, let’s be sure to bring a more excellent spiritual sacrifice to the Lord. Let’s bring our best.
Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect” (NET).
“We’re going to take you to a psychiatrist,” my parents told me. “Maybe he can help you.” “But everyone will think I’m crazy,” I protested. “Well, we’ve got to do something, honey,” my dad said. “We’ve tried everything else.” I had always been nervous. When I was small, my parents took me to a child psychologist. In my early teens, they took me to a hypnotherapist. More recently, Daddy put me on medication to help my nerves, but nothing really helped.
I always had felt lonely and unhappy. Sometimes I felt as though I were living in hell. I never got a full night’s sleep and often had awful nightmares. I thought of killing myself, but feared death.
How I longed to talk more to my parents about my depression! But both were busy with their professions. A series of housekeepers cared for my two older sisters and me as we grew up. Not until Eleanor came along, when I was 13, did I find someone to talk to….”
(this article is an excerpt from the January–February 2008edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)
To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 17, click this link:
These sources explain that many Gentiles were attracted to the seventh-day Sabbath. As reviewed especially in last week’s article, the Sabbath had the necessary elements to spread throughout the Roman world. Many people in the Roman world, regardless of their background, were exposed to the Sabbath in some degree or another.
In this article, we will look at God fearers, the Sabbath, and the Book of Acts. Gentiles who were attracted to the moral teachings of Judaism and likely obeyed some degree of commandment keeping were called God-fearers (phoboumenos) or worshipers of God (theosebes). Josephus references the God worshipers in his work Antiquities of the Jews.
He wrote: “Let no one wonder that there was so much wealth in our temple, since all the Jews throughout the world, and those that worshipped God (Sebomenon ton theon), even in Asia and Europe, sent their contributions to it, and that from very ancient times.” (idem, 14.7.2). Poppea, Nero’s wife, is also described using this term (ibid, 20.8.11).
Jews throughout the Roman world and ‘those who worshipped God’ contributed to the wealth in the Temple. The Greek phrase refers to Gentiles who favored Jewish practices. For a grammatical explanation as to this reference, see Ralph Marcus’ 1952 article in the Bibliography at the end of this article.
Several archaeological finds confirm the existence of God-fearers and corroborate with our sources in the first two parts of this series. We will review this information and then go through the book of Acts to see if we find any God-fearers and what relationship they had to the Sabbath.
Archaeological Evidence of God-Fearers
An inscription in Panticapaeum (modern-day Crimea), which dates to the first century AD, describes freedom given to a slave. The freed person was protected against re-enslavement by Jewish people and God-fearers. The inscription reads: “the protection (of his freedom) is accepted by the community of the Jews and God-worshippers”; the Greek reads: Ioudaion kai theosebon (Trebilco, p 155).
A theater in Miletus or Miletos (modern-day western Turkey) contains some inscriptions important to this research that dates to the late second/early third century. The seats in the theater were reserved for specific people groups, usually according to their rank/class. Inscriptions were found on seats in the theater designating where people groups were allowed to sit.
One inscription reads: “the place for the Jews and God-worshippers” (Trebilco, pp 159-162). Another inscription referenced the “Jewish Blues” or the “Blue Jews”, which likely refers to Jewish people who were associated with a certain color (Spielman, p 117). A newer inscription found in 1998 mentioned the thesebion or God-worshippers without mentioning Jewish people (Baker, p 412).*
In Tralles (western Turkey), another inscription dates to the third century. A woman named Capitolina fulfilled a vow and was described as a worshiper of God. She was related to the pro-consul of Asia at that time.
“Capitolina, worthy and God-worshipping (theosebes), have made all the platform and the inlaying of the stairs in fulfillment of a vow for myself and my children and my grandchildren. Blessings.” (Trebilco, p 157). The inscription concerned a Jewish synagogue.
A stone found in the city of Deliler (near Philadelphia in western Turkey) that dates to the third century. An inscription where a man named Eustathios, who was called a Theosebes, made a dedication to the synagogue.
It reads: “To the most holy synagogue of the Hebrews. Eustatios God-fearer (or pious), in remembrance of brother Hermophilos, I have dedicated the wash-basin together with my bride (or sister-in-law)” (Levinskaya, p 60).
Among the more well-known finds pertaining to this subject is the synagogue inscriptions at Aphrodisias (southwestern Turkey). Many date them to early third century, though some have suggested a little later. At the entrance to the synagogue is an inscription which lists people who donated to the synagogue. Among them are Ioses, a proselyte and Emmonios and Antioninos, who are called theosebes or God-worshipers.
On the other face of this inscription is a list of 54 Jewish people connected to the synagogue. It also lists 50 Gentile names with the heading kai hosoi theosebis or “and those who are God-worshippers” (Bonz, pp 282-284). Another inscription, from a theatre in the city which reads, “the place of those who are complete Hebrews” or Hebreon ton teleion (Feldman, 1986).
Lastly, a synagogue in Sardis (western Turkey) which dates to the fourth century provides us with another example. Two men made a vow to help with a synagogue mosaic. They were both called God worshipers or Theosebes.
“Aurelios Eulogios, Theosebes, I have fulfilled my vow.”
“Aurelios Polyippos, Theosebes, having made a vow, I have fulfilled it” (Trebilco, pp 158-159)
Looking at the available evidence, it appears that there was a difference between those who were complete Hebrews, those Gentiles who had completely committed to Judaism (proselytes), and those who followed some Jewish practices (theosebes).
Gentiles Named Their Children After the Sabbath
In the third volume of the Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum, a significant amount of space is given to Gentiles in the Roman Empire who took a name relating to the Sabbath, such as Sabatis, Sabbatatis, Sambathion, etc. In Egypt, a great number of people took on this name (idem, pp 43-45). Other cities such as Rome have evidence of this name in their burial monuments.
As part of this discussion, Tcherikover introduces a fascinating piece of evidence. An icosahedron is a polyhedron with twenty faces on it. One from ancient Alexandria has been found that dates to the time in discussion. It was likely used by children for games (similar to a dice). On each side, a number is listed with a word; most of the words are from Greek mythology.
However, the side associated with the number 6, which is represented by the Greek letter stigma, has the Greek word prosabbat(on), meaning “before Sabbath”. This is a reference to the sixth day of the week, which is the day before the Sabbath. Even on a piece of dice with mostly Greek mythology, a reference to the Sabbath can be found. A picture can be found in Perdrizet’s 1931 article Le jeu alexandrin de l’icosaèdre (see Bibliography for full reference).
These examples provide us more evidence of the wide-spread knowledge of the Sabbath and Gentile attraction to it.
The gospels do mention some material that connects to this subject. In Luke 7:1-5, the centurion’s servant needed healing. The Jewish elders asked Jesus to heal the servant because the centurion cared for them and built a synagogue. The inscriptions reviewed above dovetail with this account very well.
“4 When they came to Jesus, they urged him earnestly, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 because he loves our nation, and even built our synagogue” (Luke 7:4-5, NET, emphasis mine).
In John 7, Jesus talked about going places where no one else could go. In verse 35 we read: “Then the Jewish leaders said to one another, ‘Where is he going to go that we cannot find him? He is not going to go to the Jewish people dispersed among the Greeks and teach the Greeks, is he?’” (NET; emphasis mine)
When the Jewish people wondered where Jesus would go, their first guess is that he might go to the Jewish people in the diaspora and teach Greeks. Apparently, there were Greeks among the Jewish people who would have been interested in Jesus’ teaching.
The last example from the gospels we will look at is in John 12:20-21. Jesus went up to keep Passover, and there were some Greeks who desired to speak with Him. We read: “20 Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast. 21 So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” (NET).
These few examples from the Gospels corroborate with the inscriptions and authors reviewed thus far in this series.
The Book of Acts
The book of Acts provides excellent examples of God fearers who were connected to the Jewish people of their respective cities. The Sabbath is also mentioned with them!
Acts 10:1-2a, 22a
“Now there was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort. He was a devout, God-fearing man (phobuomenos ton theon), as was all his household; he did many acts of charity for the people and prayed to God regularly… They said, “Cornelius the centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man,well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation…” (NET, emphasis mine)
Cornelius is considered the first Gentile to receive the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. Of all the Gentiles that could have been chosen for this event, it was a Gentile God-fearer and devout. This explains why the Jewish people viewed him positively.
Acts 13:14-16, 42
14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” 16 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear (phoboumenoi) God (ton theon)…[Paul goes on to preach about Jesus and the resurrection]…“42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath…” (NKJV, emphasis mine)
There were two well-known cities named Antioch in the ancient world. The first is in modern-day Syria. The second is in modern-day Turkey. Pisidia was once a district in modern-day Turkey. About 25-26 BC it was incorporated or annexed into the region of Galatia. So Paul was visiting with congregations in the region of Galatia. We have a picture below:
The Gentiles who feared God presented themselves in the synagogue to hear the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. What was their response? They wanted to hear the Word of God on the next Sabbath. Much of the city, including mostly Gentiles, came to hear the message on the Sabbath!
“43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.” (NKJV, emphasis mine)
Their response to hearing about the grace of God was to keep observing the Sabbath. This is proof that grace and keeping the Sabbath are complimentary, not contradictory. The Gentiles received the message (Acts 13:48). In another nearby city, Paul found Jews and Greeks gathered together on the Sabbath (Acts 14:1-2).
In Acts chapter 15, the disciples held the Jerusalem Council. We give a full explanation of this council in a two part series (click here to read part 1 and click here to read part 2). At the end of it, the disciples decided on four minimum standards for Gentiles so that they could attend the synagogue. They also encouraged the Gentiles to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath.
“19 Wherefore my judgment is, that we trouble not them that from among the Gentiles turn to God; 20 but that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath.” (ASV)
Notice that the Apostles even specify what they want Gentile converts to learn (Moses), where they want them to learn it (Synagogue), and when they want them to learn it (Sabbath)! Remember that the New Testament did not exist at that time. Every synagogue had at least a Torah scroll, which is the first five books of the Bible (also called the books of Moses). The apostles pointed out how Moses was taught in every city. They could learn about righteous living by hearing Moses. Recall what Philo and Josephus said in part one of this series (click here to read).
“12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped (sebomene) God (ton theon). The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized…” (NKJV).
Philippi was a Roman colony. According to Smith’s Classical Dictionary, colonies were established at this time for Roman soldiers/veterans (entry: Colonia). There was no known Jewish synagogue in the city. Paul looked for people gathered on the Sabbath and found God worshippers like Lydia. She was possibly the first convert of Paul on European soil, and she was a God-fearer. This sounds like the situation with Cornelius!
“1 After they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” 4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large group of God-fearing (sebomenon) Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (NET, emphasis mine).
In Thessalonica, Paul found God fearers in the synagogues who gathered with Jewish people on the Sabbath. They were among his converts. They then went to Berea and found Jewish people along with Greeks studying the Old Testament together (Acts 17:10-12).
We will conclude this chapter with some select quotes from Acts 17 and 18. Paul wen to Athens and Corinth and found God fearers!
“…16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers (toissebomenois), and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there” (NKJV, emphasis mine).
Acts 18:1, 3b-4, 7-8
“1 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth…he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks…7 And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God (sebomenou ton theon), whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized…” (NKJV, emphasis mine)
The historical record, Jewish, Christian, and Gentile, attests to the widespread appeal that the Sabbath had to non-Jews. These sources reveal that a significant number of Gentiles observed a degree of Sabbath observance. The archaeological record discusses a classification of Gentiles who were not full proselytes but attached to the synagogue – these are called God-fearers or God-worshippers.
As the early disciples spread the gospel, they found God-fearers in the synagogue with Jewish people on the Sabbath. This group of Gentiles were ripe for evangelism. They desired characteristics of the Judaism, including the Sabbath, but were also drawn to the message of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. In some places, there were no Jewish synagogues, yet Gentile God-worshipers were still gathered for the Sabbath.
Contrary to much modern teaching, no evidence exists that the Sabbath was changed by the teachings of the early disciples. The disciples preached about the resurrection and continued to meet on the Sabbath (Acts 13:13-48, Acts 17:1-3; click here to learn more about this subject).
For the earliest believers, Judaism provided the necessary superstructure necessary for the early Christians to share the message of Jesus and still learn about holy living. This included gathering/observance of the Sabbath. The only day of Christian gathering in the New Testament and immediate post-apostolic history is the Sabbath. It was the only day of rest in the ancient world.
The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Translated by Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort. Edited by J.D. Douglas. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1990.
Baker, Murray. “Who was sitting in the Threatre at Miletos?” An Epigraphical Application of a Novel Theory.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period, vol. 36, no. 4, Brill, 2005, pp. p 412, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24669602.
Bonz, Marianne Palmer. “The Jewish Donor Inscriptions from Aphrodisias: Are They Both Third-Century, and Who Are the Theosebeis?” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 96, 1994, pp. 281–99, https://doi.org/10.2307/311328. Accessed 4 Apr. 2022.
Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum. Edited by Victor A. Tcherikover, Alexander Fuks, and Menahem Stern. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964. pp 43-87.
Feldman, Louis H. “The Omnipresence of the God-Fearers,” Biblical Archaeology Review 12.5 (1986): 58–63.
Filson, Floyd V. “Ancient Greek Synagogue Inscriptions.” The Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 32, no. 2, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1969, pp. 41–46, https://doi.org/10.2307/3210988.
Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews, 14.7.2, 20.8.11. Whiston’s Translation revised by Rev. A.R. Shilleto, Vol. 3, London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, 1889. pp 19, 404.
Levinskaya, Irina. The Book of Acts in Its Diaspora Setting. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996. pp 60-70.
After the death of the first Apostles, confusion entered the Christian community. Persecution and false teachers threatened the purity of the faith. In the midst of this chaos stood a man named Polycarp. He was taught and ordained by the first Apostles; he battled false teachings.
In this work, you will learn about the events surrounding Polycarp’s fight for the faith. You will also gain key insight into his teachings and life. He is a true hero for all Christians!
This work also contains the recently discovered “Lost Teaching of Polycarp”!
To download this book for free, just click the picture below!
How Did 1st Century Gentiles View the Sabbath? (Part 2 of 2)
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In part one of this series (click here to read part one), we looked at two Jewish and two Christian sources who agreed that the Sabbath was known by all nations (that they knew of). Their testimonies have backing in the Greek and Latin languages, which were used in the first century AD. Moreover, Roman law protected Sabbath observance. This provided legal protections for those who desired to observe the day. To learn more about this subject, click here.
In this article, we will review fifteen (15) Roman/Greek authors from this era of time who referenced the Sabbath in some way. None of them were Jewish or Christian. This will allow us to test the claims made by Philo, Josephus, Theophilus, and Clement we reviewed in part one.
These quotes will give us important clues to ascertain the widespread knowledge of the Sabbath in the early Roman Empire. Most of these writers composed their works in Latin, though some used koine Greek. The quotes we will use span from the first century BC through the mid-second century AD. This allows us to look at the time leading up to, during, and just after the first century.
Pompeius Trogus (1st Century BC – preserved through Justinius’ Epitome) “And Moses, having reached Damascus, the birth-place of his forefathers, took possession of Mount Sinai, on his arrival at which, after having suffered, together with his followers, from a seven days’ fast in the desert of Arabia, he consecrated(sacravit)* every seventh day (according to the present custom of the nation) for a fast day, and to be perpetually called a sabbath (Sabbata), because that day had ended at once their hunger and their wanderings” (Epitome, 36.2).
*The Latin word sacra is the closest word to our concept of holy.
Meleager of Gadara (1st cent. BC) “If your lover is some Sabbath-keeper (Sabbatikos), no great wonder! Love burns hot even on cold Sabbaths (Sabbasi)” (Anthologia Graeca, 5.160).
Horace(65-8 BC) “‘Surely you said there was something you wanted to tell me in private.’ ‘I mind it well, but I’ll tell you at a better time. To-day is the thirtieth Sabbath (tricesima sabbata). Would you affront the circumcised Jews?’ ‘I have no scruples,’ say I. ‘But I have. I’m somewhat weaker brother, one of the many*. You will pardon me; I’ll talk another day’” (Satires, 1.9.67-73).
*Horace discussed “…one of the many” who did not want to attend to certain matters on Sabbath. The Latin reads: “unus multorum” meaning one of many or one of a multitude.
Strabo (64 BC-22 AD) “Pompey seized the city, it is said, after watching for the day of fasting, when the Judeans were abstaining from all work…” (Geography, 16.2.40).
Ovid (43 BC-17 AD) “Nor let Adonis bewailed by Venus, escape you; and the seventh holy-day observed by the Jew of Syria (Cultaque Iudaeo septima sacra Syro)” (The Art of Love, Book 1, part 3).
“…on the day, too, when the festival recurs, observed each seventh day by the Syrian of Palestine, a day not suited for the transaction of business” (The Art of Love, Book 1, part 11).
“And don’t you fear showers; nor let the Sabbaths (sabbata) of the stranger detain you…” (The Cure for Love, Part 3).
Seneca(4 BC to 65 AD) Seneca mocked the lighting of Sabbath lamps. He says it should be banned because the gods do not need light. “Precepts are commonly given as to how the gods should be worshipped. But let us forbid lamps to be lighted on the Sabbath (sabbatis), since the gods do not need light, neither do men take pleasure in soot…” (Epistle 95.47).
Petronius (27-66 AD) “The Jew may worship his pig-god and clamour in the ears of high heaven, but unless he also cuts back his foreskin with the knife, he shall go forth from the holycity cast forth from the people, and transgress the Sabbath(sabbata) by breaking the law of fasting…” (Poem, section 24).
Persius (34-62 AD) “But when the days Of Herod come, and Superstition sways, When greasy lamps pour forth their smoky flame, And gaudy chaplets solemn rites proclaim; When earthen goblets foam, and the coarse dish, Scarce holds within its rim the spreadish fish; You move your silent lips, your colour’s fled, And with the circumcis’d the Sabbath (sabata) dread…” (Satires, 5.237-244).
Frontinus (30-103 AD) “The deified Vespasian Augustus attacked the Jews on their Sabbath (Iudaeos Saturni die), a day on which it is sinful for them to do any business, and so defeated them” (Strategems, 2.1.17).
Martial(d. 104 AD) “The stench of the bed of a drained marsh; of the raw vapours of Sulphur springs; the putrid reek of a sea-water fishpond; of a stale he-goat in the midst of his amours; of the military boot of a fagged-out veteran; of a fleece twice dyed with purple; of the breath of fasting Sabbatarian (sabbatariarum) Jews…” (Epigrams, 4:4).
Tacitus (writing approx. 117 AD) “To ensure his future hold over the people, Moses introduced a new cult, which was the opposite of all other religions. All that we hold sacred (sacra) they held profane, and allowed practices which we abominate…They are said to have devoted the seventh day to rest, because that day brought an end to their troubles. Later, finding idleness alluring, they gave up the seventh year as well to sloth. Others maintain that they do this in honour of Saturn…” (The Histories, 5:4-5).
Plutarch (46-119 AD) This author describes the Jewish people resting while Jerusalem was being besieged (likely referring to either Pompey’s siege in 63 BC or Antony in 38 BC). “But the Jews, because it was the Sabbath day (Sabbaton), sat in their places immovable, while the enemy were planting ladders against the walls and capturing the defences, and they did not get up, but remained there, fast bound in the toils of superstition as in one great net” (Superstition, 8; Plutarch wrote in Greek).
Juvenal(d. 140 AD) “Some chance to have a father who fears the Sabbaths (sabbata), They adore nothing besides the clouds, and the Deity of heaven: Nor do they think swine’s flesh to be different from human From which the father abstain’d; and soon they lay aside their foreskins: But used to despise the Roman laws, They learn, and keep, and fear the Jewish law, Whatsoever Moses hath delivered in the secret volume: Not to shew the ways, unless to one observing the same rites, To lead the circumcised only to a sought-for fountain But the father is in fault, to whom every seventh day was Idle, and he did not meddle with any part of life” (Satires, 14:96-106).
Suetonius (69-122 AD) “Once more: ‘Not even a Jew, my dear Tiberius, fasts so scrupulously on his sabbaths(sabbatis) as I have to‑day; for it was not until after the first hour of the night that I ate two mouthfuls of bread in the bath before I began to be anointed’” (Life of Augustus, 76.2).
“The grammarian Diogenes, who used to lecture every Sabbath (sabbatis) at Rhodes, would not admit Tiberius when he came to hear him on a different day, but sent a message by a common slave of his, putting him off to the seventh day (septimum diem)” (Life of Tiberius, 32.2).
Vettius Valens (150-170 AD) Vettius was an astrologer. He wrote a book called Anthology. Book 1, Section 10, title reads: “Concerning the seven-zones and the Sabbath day (sabbatiches hameras). Opening line: “Concerning the week and the sabbath day (sabbatiches hameras). He then lists the days of the week in the following order: Helios (Sun-day); Selene (Monday); Aries (Tuesday); Hermes (Wednesday); Zeus (Thursday); Aphrodite (Friday); Kronos (Saturday).
Vettius’ Testimony Of these testimonies, Vettius’ is very important. The pagans had a seven-day week based upon the ‘seven planets’. Pagan planetary week: Saturday-Friday. Vettius lists it in a different order – Sunday-Saturday with an emphasis that this is the order of the planetary week to determine the Sabbath. This astrologer knew that to calculate the Sabbath, the days of the pagan planetary week had to be re-ordered to flow from Sunday through Saturday.
This emphasizes that there was only one Sabbath in the first-century Roman world. This is also more evidence that the Biblical week influenced the Roman/Greek culture. This is to be expected based upon what we have reviewed so far. To learn more about the planetary week and the Biblical week, download our Free book “How Did Sunday Become the First Day of the Week?” (click here to download).
Below, I have provided analysis for these authors. I have listed a significant detail relating to the Sabbath and the authors who referenced it.
– Knew that the Sabbath related to Jewish people [13 authors]
– Used a Latin or Greek word that phonetically corresponded to Shabbat or Sabbat [12 authors]: (Pompeius, Meleager, Horace, Ovid, Seneca, Petronius, Persius, Martial, Plutarch, Juvenal, Suetonius, Vettius)
– Acknowledged that the Jewish people rested/abstained from labor on the day [8 authors]: (Horace, Strabo, Ovid, Seneca, Frontinus, Tacitus, Plutarch [indirect], Juvenal)
– Mentioned the seventh-day of the week as it relates to the Sabbath [7 authors]: (Pompeius, Ovid, Seneca, Tacitus, Juvenal, Suetonius, Vettius)*
– Moses was mentioned [4 authors]: (Pompieus, Strabo [who discussed him in the greater context of the quote and has considerable details about him], Tacitus, Juvenal)
– Knew Jewish people observed as sacred/dedicated to their God [4 authors]: (Pompieus, Ovid, Plutarch [indirect])
– Associated the Sabbath with the Day of Saturn [3 authors]: (Frontinus*, Tacitus, Vettius)
*Frontinus wrote “The Jews’ Day of Saturn” so as to distinguish it from the Roman day of Saturn
These authors are some of the most well-known writers of their time. Seneca was an orator and tutor of Emperor Nero. Petronius was a consul of Rome and friend of Nero. Persius, Horace, and Ovid were famous poets. Tacitus is considered among the great or greatest Roman historian. Frontinus was a solider and governor of Britain for a time. Strabo was the only Geographer in Augustan period.
To summarize, the practices of the Jewish people, including the Sabbath, were so different than the Romans and Greeks that they stood out. The popular Roman writers we have discussed in this article assisted in spreading knowledge of the Sabbath. Many Gentiles already knew about the Sabbath and possibly observed the day to some degree or another.
Additionally, the Sabbath had the necessary elements to spread throughout the Roman World. Consider the following:
– Jewish people and synagogues were scattered over the Roman Empire. This allowed a point of contact or living example of the Sabbath. People could observe and participate in a community who observed the Sabbath.
– The Septuagint was a text that existed in a commonly known language, Greek, that could be read, understood, and accessed (It was composed in about 200 BC).
– The practice was protected by Roman Law (precedent).
– These common cultural writers propagated knowledge of the Sabbath.
The average person could access knowledge of the Sabbath in many ways. The quotes in this article corroborate with the quotes from Philo, Josephus, Theophilus, and Clement corroborate with cultural writers of the time. As we consider all these things, it would be hard for Gentiles not to know about the Sabbath to some degree.
Next week, we will look at the New Testament and bring out elements of the text you may have never seen before!
Bibliography Cassius Dio. Roman History, 37.16.1-5; 37.17.1-3; 49.22.4-6; 57.18.5; 60.6.6. Dio’s Roman History. Translation by Earnest Cary. vol. 3. Harvard University Press: 1959. pp 125-129; vol. 5. 1955. pp 387-389. vol 7. 1955. pp 163, 383.
Frontinus. Strategems, 2.1.1. The Strategems and the Aqueducts of Rome. Translation by Charles E Bennett. New York: 1925. pp 98-99.
Horace. Satires, 1.9.67-73. Latin: The Satires. Ed. Edward P Morris. American Book Company. 1909. New York. p 33. English: Horace: Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica. Translation by H. Rushton Fairclough. Cambridge, MA. 1926. pp 60-61, pp 110-111.
Horace. Odes, 2.17.23. The Odes and Epodes. Translated C.E. Bennett. Harvard University Press. 1912. pp 154-155.
Jewish Encyclopedia 1905: Rome
Juvenal. Satires, 6. 569-571. Juvenal and Persius. Translated by G.G. Ramsay. London: 1928. pp 128-129. Juvenal. Satires, 14:96-106. A New and Literal Translation of Juvenal and Persius. Translated by M. Madan. vol 2. London: 1829. pp 192-195.
Martial. Epigrams, 4:4. Translated by Walter C.A. Ker. Vol 1. New York: 1919. pp 232-233.
Meleager of Gadara in Jordan. The Greek Anthology. Translated by W.R.Paton. Vol 1. 1920. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Pp 204-205.
Ovid. The Art of Love, 1.3, 1.11. The Cure for Love, part 3. Latin: The Art of Love and Other Poems. Translated by J.H. Mozley. Cambridge, MA: 1957. pp 16, 40, 192. English: The Heroides or Epistles of the Heroines, The Amours, Art of Love, Remedy of Love, And Minor Works of Ovid. Translated by Henry T. Riley. London: 1852. pp 382, 395, 471.
Persius. Satires, 5.50. Juvenal and Persius. Translated by G.G. Ramsay. London: 1928. pp 372-373. Persius. Satires, 5.237-244. Persius’ Satires. Translated by Byam Wollaston. London, 1841. pp 87-89.
Petronius. Poems, section 24. Petronius. Translation by Michael Heseltine. New York: 1925. pp 356-357.
Plutarch. On Superstition. Plutarch’s Moralia. Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt. Vol 2. Harvard University Press: 1962. pp480-481.
Pompeius Trogus. Justin’sEpitome, 36.2. Justin, Cornelius Nepos, and Eutropius. Translated by John Selby Watson. London: 1853. pp 245-246.
Seneca. Epistle 95.47. Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales. Translation by Richard M Gummere. vol. 3. New York: 1925. pp 86-89.
Strabo. Geography, 16.2.40. Georgraphy. The Geography of Strabo. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones. vol. 7. Cambridge: 1954. pp 290-291.
Suetonius. Life of Augustus, 76.2. Life of Tiberius, 32.2. Suetonius. Translation by J.C. Rolfe. vol. 1. New York: 1914. pp 240-241, pp 340-341.
Tacitus. The Histories, 5:4-5. Translated W. Hamilton Fyfe. vol 2. Oxford: 1912, pp 205-208.
Vettius Valens. Anthology. Book 1, section 10, lines 10-18. Vettii Valentis. Anthologiarium Libri. First ed. Guilelmus Kroll. Apud Weidmannos, Berlin, 1908, p 26.
“The main problem with all of us is our sin. We were born in it. We live with it, to one degree or another. It stains and twists all our worlds.
Most of the sad facts about history and human failure are nicely explained by what the Bible says about sin. The Scriptures on this topic correspond with the reality of what is; thus, their teaching is true.
God’s Word defines sin in different ways. Sin is the absence of faith. Sin is any foolish thought. Sin is missing the right mark — unrighteousness. Sin is the failure to reach God’s standard, and the transgression of His law. Sin is not doing what we know we ought.
Blending these Bible definitions, we may say that sin is any thought, word, deed, or omission that disobeys the word and will of God for our lives. That covers a lot of territory! And it describes every human on earth at some time or another, including you and me.
In this introduction, I have described the nature and extent of sin. So far, not so good. My purpose, however, is to consider better things: the divine solution to this human predicament. If sin is the disease, what is the cure? Four words in Scripture summarize the Spirit’s solution to our sin problem. They will be easier to learn and embrace if we see them in pairs, as they are written….”
(this article is an excerpt from the January–February 2009edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)
How Did 1st Century Gentiles View the Sabbath? (Part 1 of 2)
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
What if you were a Gentile in the first century Roman world? What do you think you might know or not know about the Sabbath?
We might be tempted to read the book of Acts with an assumption that Gentiles were not drawn to the seventh-day Sabbath because they were not Jewish. But what do the primary sources say about this subject?
In this multi-part series, we will look at two Jewish, two Christian, and fifteen Roman/Greek primary sources to uncover the truth on this subject. We will start with two Jewish writers. They may be able to give us insight as to how Gentiles viewed the Sabbath.
Philo Judaeus, also called Philo of Alexandria, lived from approximately 15 BC to 50 AD. He came from a very prominent family; his historical writings are considered extremely valuable. He made some interesting comments about the Sabbath and its prevalence.
“But after the whole world had been completed according to the perfect nature of the number six, the Father hallowed the day following, the seventh, praising it and calling it holy. For that day is the festival, not of one city or one country, but of all the earth; a day which alone it is right to call the day of festival for all people and the birth-day of the world” (On the Creation of the World, 30).
“…with our laws which Moses has given to us; for they lead after them andinfluence all nations, barbarians, and Greeks, the inhabitants of continents and islands, the eastern nations and the western, Europe and Asia; in short, the whole habitable world from one extremity to the other. For what man is there who does not honour that sacred seventh day, granting in consequence a relief and relaxation from labour, for himself and for all those who are near to him, and that not to free men only, but also to slaves, and even to beasts of burden; for the holiday extends even to every description of animal, and to every beast whatever which performs service to man, like slaves obeying their natural master, and it affects even every species of plant and tree…but everything is at liberty and in safety on that day, and enjoys as it were, perfect freedom, no one ever touching them, in obedience to a universal proclamation” (On the Life of Moses, 2.4).
Josephus was a first-century Jewish writer who lived from about 37-100 AD. He came from a priestly family and was an aristocrat. He recorded many events in Jewish history and especially events contemporary to his time.
“We have already demonstrated that our laws have been such as have always inspired admiration and imitation into all other men; nay, the earliest Grecian philosophers, though in appearance they observe the laws of their own countries, yet did they, in their actions and their philosophic doctrines, follow our legislator, and instructed men to live sparingly, and to have friendly communications one with another. Nay farther, the multitude of mankind itself have had a great inclination of a long time to follow our religious observances. For 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, and by which our fasts, and lighting up lamps, and many of our prohibitions as to our food, are not observed” (Josephus, Appion 2.40).
Both Jewish writers state that most or all the Gentiles were influenced by the seventh-day Sabbath. These are bold claims! Because these men were both Jewish, one could argue that their statements contain a degree of bias. One the ways we will cross reference the validity of their comments is to compare them to Christian writings on similar subjects in the very next century.
The first statement we will review was made by Theophilius of Antioch. He was the Christian Bishop of Antioch 169-180 AD; he was the sixth Bishop of the city since the time of the Apostles. Our second quote comes from Clement of Alexandria, who lived approximately 150-215 AD.
“‘And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create.’…Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the “Sabbath,” is translated into Greek the “Seventh” (ebdomas), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation” (To Autolycus, 2.11-12).
“But the seventh day is recognised as sacred, not by the Hebrews only, but also by the Greeks; according to which the whole world of all animals and plants revolve…” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 5.14).
These two Christian authors express similar sentiments to our Jewish sources, though writing about 100 or more years afterwards. This indicates that the Gentile attitude towards the Sabbath continued beyond the first century.
Philo and Clement also seem to agree that other things in nature, such as animals, are affected in some way or another by the seventh-day Sabbath or the seven-day cycle. Three of these sources convey that the Sabbath has had a degree of impact upon all nations. Clement mentioned both Hebrews and Greeks as having been impacted.
These four primary sources convey the idea that the Sabbath was recognized as sacred among different nations, but especially among the Greeks. Philo goes so far as to say ‘the whole world.’ Maybe peoples from different nations were affected not just by resting on the day, but also by language or some other custom(s).
Theophilius stated that every nation recognized the seventh day by a name in their language for that day. It would be difficult to verify what every nation in the first century named the seventh day of the week. However, we can look at two well-known languages in the first century. This means that etymology is another field of study to help us validate these statements.
The Hebrew word for Sabbath is Shabbat or Sabbat. In the koine Greek and Latin languages, words very similar to it were developed to describe the Sabbath.
The Septuagint and the New Testament were both composed in the koine Greek language. This form of Greek began around the time of Alexander the Great (335 BC) and was still common until at least the fourth century AD. During the first few centuries of koine, the Greeks had sustained contact with the Jewish people.
They developed the word sabbaton to refer to the seventh day Sabbath. We can see that it is phonetically derived from the Hebrew word for the seventh day.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, which retained the use of Greek, continued to revere the seventh day Sabbath for many centuries after Christ. This fact is reflected by the modern Greek name for Saturday (sabbato or savvato) and Friday (paraskevi, which means day of preparation [for the Sabbath]).
Classical Latin is another language to consider. As a written language, it developed in the last few centuries BC. Sabbata, sabbatum, and variations thereof were developed to describe the Sabbath. Again, we can see the basic phonetic sounds for Sabbat/Shabbat preserved in this word.
Language is one way that we know a practice or word has prevalence in a culture. The culture acknowledged the existence of the practice and reinforced this knowledge by introducing and maintaining a word to express it.
These sources are very helpful in our search to understand Gentile attitudes towards the Sabbath in the early Roman Empire. Josephus lived in Rome and was very familiar with the Romans. Philo and Clement lived in Alexandria, which was a hub of knowledge in the ancient world and a center for Hellenistic studies.
In other words, their statements were not made in vacuum. They are summarizing the subject matter based upon other extant sources in their times, some of which is available for us to study today. This evidence will bring clarity to their statements and this subject matter.