Anabaptist Sabbatarians in 16th Century Germany (Part 1)

Sabbatarians in 16th Century Germany (Part 1)

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

This article begins a two-part series on Sabbatarians in 16th century Germany. It is a fascinating page out of Sabbatarian history as these Sabbath keepers had no known connections to any pre-existing Sabbath group. Through a series of events, including a failed prophecy about Jesus’ return, a small group of reformers would obey and teach the seventh-day Sabbath.

Sixteenth century Germany was a country ripe for change. The invention of the printing press in the prior century had enabled ideas of all kinds to be spread faster than ever before. Religious and political revolts contributed to a very unstable situation.

In 1517, Martin Luther initiated a reformation of church practices that he deemed as non-Scriptural with his 95 Theses. It started a religious revolution that questioned and threatened the traditional establishment, which was the Roman Catholic Church. Several years later, wary rural commoners of Germany rallied together to protest their treatment by feudal lords; they desired more freedom. In 1524, these protests devolved into violence and a formal revolt began which is historically called “The Peasant’s War” (this was the name it was given by German princes; people who were non-peasants participated).

One ardent defender of this revolt was Thomas Muntzer. He proclaimed that Jesus was coming soon and that the peasants needed to overthrow the existing rulers to hasten His return. Among the men who heard him was Hans Hut; he was an Evangelical Lutheran who sold books by trade. He was inspired by Muntzer’s message and ensured that one of his books was published. Hut fought in the peasant’s army.

People in this rebellion hoped that Martin Luther would side with them in their quest for political freedom. They saw their movement and Luther’s reforms as complimentary and contributing to the same overall goal of overthrowing a corrupt establishment power structure. Things did not turn out the way they desired; Luther encouraged the princes of Germany to crush the rebellion with maximum force, even calling for the revolters to be killed like mad dogs. Within a year of fighting, at least 100,000 peasants died in this revolt.

Just before or perhaps during the events of the 1524-1525 Peasant’s War, a separate movement emerged in Germany called Anabaptists. Among their core beliefs was the rejection of infant baptism in favor of adult baptism upon a personal conversion experience. After Luther’s rejection of the commoner’s rebellion, people looked for a Christian religious ethic that promoted individual religious freedom. For many, the Anabaptist movement was the answer. They promoted local leadership in congregations and a personal relationship with God.

Among the first Anabaptist ministers in Germany and Austria were Balthasar Humbaier, Hans Denck, and Hans Hut. The instability of the period seemed to create opportunities and obstacles that did not exist years beforehand. These Anabaptist leaders often did not have long ministry careers because they were usually martyred. Despite the brevity of their service times, they made a tremendous impact. The printing press allowed their influence to spread far and wide.

Hubmaier started preaching Reformation doctrine in the early 1520s, but he also participated to some degree in the Peasant’s War. In 1525, he was baptized and composed a very influential tract on the importance of Christian baptism. The next year, he moved to Nikolsburg, Moravia where religious toleration was allowed. He found success and turned the local Lutheran congregation into an Anabaptist group. This included prominent persons such as the feudal ruler of that area – Count Leonhard von Liechtenstein.

For a time, Hubmaier led a congregation of as many as 12,000 people. One of his assistants was Oswald Glaidt, who had previously been a Franciscan monk and Lutheran. He composed works to help Hubmaier’s cause, including a fourteen-point tract explaining Anabaptist beliefs and a song written in 1526 or 1527 entitled “The Ten Commandments.” In the song, we can see the importance that German Anabaptists placed on the Decalogue. At that time, Glaidt still only thought of the Sabbath as something to be spiritually observed.

Hans Denck was also baptized by Hubmaier and led an Anabaptist congregation of 1,100 people in Augsburg (1526). He taught that Luther’s view of justification was too flaccid and that it allowed one to live as they wished. He wanted people to focus on living like Jesus. Hans Hut was among those he baptized.

After Hut’s baptism, he diverged from some earlier views, such as those of Muntzer, about the Peasant’s War. Instead, he began to teach that God would have to bring about revolution and change by His own power and authority. As a result, his teachings had an eschatological tone which echoed Muntzer minus the militancy. Scholars debate whether the failure or the Peasant’s War or Baptism caused him to have a different perspective on the subject.

Hut traveled to Nikolsburg and conflicted with Hubmaier. The two had several points of difference, including the use of the sword by secular authorities and Hut’s prophetic views. Hubmaier tried to have Hut arrested, but Hut fled the area and traveled to Austria. Glaidt followed Hut and the two worked together to spread the message. Hut preached the gospel and Glaidt followed his efforts by baptizing and instructing the new converts. Among their new followers was Andreas Fischer.

Hut taught that God was gathering an elect Body of believers. When Christ publicly returned, this elect group would fight in the spiritual army of God to defeat their enemies (based on Rev. 17:14 and Rev. 19:11-18). Moreover, he taught his followers that they were to suffer for the cause without picking up arms to fight back. He thought that these events would happen very soon and predicted that Christ would return on the day of Pentecost 1528.

In 1527, Oswald wrote a song called “Awake You People In These Final Days.” Fortunately, this writing has survived the centuries. The heavy eschatological focus provides precious insight into the eschatological teachings of Hut and Glaidt.

The song promoted the idea that the return of Jesus was imminent. The Anabaptist followers of Hans Hut viewed themselves as living in the last days prophesied in the book of Daniel; they put together a medley of prophecies from this book (mainly from chapters 8, 9, and 11). They viewed the Anabaptist water baptism and the taking of communion as the restoration of True Temple sacrifices described in Daniel. The martyrdom of their people resulted in Temple sacrifices ceasing. They viewed the Pope as the man of lawlessness from 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and the originator of worldliness and false doctrine in the Christian world.

From 1527 onward, Ferdinand I, the King of Austria, issued edicts against Anabaptists which hindered their evangelistic efforts. Bounty hunters and others were commissioned by the king to hunt down Anabaptists and arrest or kill them on sight. Beheading was their favored form of execution against these Christians (Liechty, Andreas Fischer and the Sabbatarian Anabaptists, pp 36-38).

Hut was arrested and died in prison in 1527. He only preached for about a year but had a tremendous impact for Anabaptists, especially in Austria. Jesus did not appear in 1528 as he had predicted. Despite this failure, many of his followers continued with the Anabaptist movement in one way or another. Oswald Glaidt was one of their leaders.

What About the Sabbath?
Oswald Glaidt was the first of these Anabaptist ministers to teach the literal observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. How and when he came to understand the Sabbath is still debated. The theory espoused by contemporary authors such as Luther and Erasmus was that the Jewish people convinced them to keep the Sabbath. Modern scholarship has definitively proven this to be false. In modern times, two very credible ideas on this subject have been developed. The first comes from Daniel Liechty in his work Andreas Fischer and the Sabbatarian Anabaptists. In it, he borrowed material from Werner Packull’s work.

Apparently, Hans Hut had a concordance of the seven judgments found in Revelation. In it, he employed the Sabbath in an allegorical sense. One of his early disciples was questioned about the seven judgments and testified that “[As] Christ had labored six days, and [then] celebrated the seventh, so God’s Word had been persecuted six times and now for the seventh time, [but] it would be brought into rest through the Anabaptists after they experience the same [persecution]” (idem, page 62). Liechty argued that from this allegorical focus on the Sabbath, Oswald derived a need to literally observe the seventh day.

The second view comes from Martin Rothkegel, who wrote about 20 years later. His approach and material greatly impacted this subject. He discussed one of the issues which divided Anabaptists, which was the issue called “The Sword.” Should a Christian hold positions in government, and, if so, to what degree should they use violence as part of their judgments against law breakers? 

In 1527, Hubmaier wrote a work called On the Sword. He advocated the idea that Christians could hold secular government positions and use violence to punish evildoers. He also believed that God mandated the use of the sword in these situations. Hans Hut took the opposite view on this subject. He claimed Christians should never serve in government and advocated for non-resistance against violence.

Rothkegel introduces a piece of evidence not previously explored on this subject. In 1530, Glaidt composed a book where he advocated the sword. He explained that the Ten Commandments were required for all Christians to follow in the literal sense. This included the Sabbath. This was a departure from his previous view in 1527. He went on to say that it was the duty of Christian rulers to put to death people who violated one of the commandments requiring that penalty.

As discussed earlier, Glaidt spent time under Hubmaier’s leadership. While Glaidt joined Hans Hut’s group, he seems to have held onto Hubmaier’s view of the sword.

I consider both authors to have a valid point and it is likely that both Hans Hut’s eschatological focus on sevens in the Bible, including the Sabbath, and Hubmaier’s view on the sword contributed to Glaidt’s conclusion. As Liechty pointed out, Hubmaier was anti-Jewish and thought that Sunday was the Sabbath (p 61). Hubmaier focused on the literal observance of the Ten Commandments, except the Sabbath. Hans Hut was using the Sabbath in an allegorical sense. In a way, Glaidt merged these two ideals into a new way of thinking about the subject. As we will see in the next article on this subject, Glaidt used eschatological arguments in other works (which shows continued influence from Hans Hut).

While conducting the evangelism campaigns with Hans Hut, Oswald met a man named Andreas Fischer. Next week, we will examine the lives of these Sabbatarians and their work for the Lord. CLICK HERE To read part two of this series!

Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President –


Encyclopedia of the Reformation (1996, hardcopy): Anabaptists, Hans Denck, Balthasar Hubmaier, Thomas Muntzer, Oswald Glaidt, Sabbatarians.
Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO – accessed through Anabaptism, Hans Denck, Balthasar Hubmaier, Oswald Glaidt, Martin Luther, Thomas Muntzer, Peasant’s War (1524-1525), Sabbatarian Anabaptists.
Hasel, Gerhard F.. “Sabbatarian Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century: Part I.” Andrews University Seminary Studies (AUSS) 5.2 (1967): 101-121.
Hasel, Gerhard F.. “Sabbatarian Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century: Part 2.” Andrews University Seminary Studies (AUSS) 6.1 (1968): 19-28.
Liechty, Daniel. Andreas Fischer and the Sabbatarian Anabaptists. Herald Press; Scottdale, PA. 1988.
Liechty, Daniel. Sabbatarianism in the Sixteenth Century. Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, Michigan. 1993. pp 1-41.
Rothkegel, Martin. “Anabaptist Sabbatarianism in Sixteenth-Century Moravia.” Mennonite Quarterly Review, vol. 87, no. 4, 2013: 519-573.

A Brief History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

A Brief History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

“Organized in 1863, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has its doctrinal roots in the “Advent Awakening” movement of the 1840s. Hundreds of thousands of Christians became convinced from their study of Bible prophecy that Christ would soon return. This re-awakening of a neglected biblical belief occurred in many countries, with a major focus in North America.

After the “great disappointment” of their hopes in 1844, these “advent believers” broke up into a number of different groups. One group, studying their Bibles for increased understanding, recognized the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday) as the day of worship. This group, which included Ellen and James White and Joseph Bates, became the nucleus of the church congregations that chose the name “Seventh-day Adventist Church” and organized in Battle Creek, Michigan, with 125 churches and 3,500 members.

A small nucleus of “Adventists” began to grow ― mainly in the New England states of America, where William Miller’s Advent movement had begun. Ellen G. White, a mere teenager at the time of the “Great Disappointment,” of 1844 grew into a gifted author, speaker, and administrator, who would become and remain the trusted spiritual counselor of the Adventist family for more than seventy years until her death in 1915. Her counsels and messages to believers and church leaders shaped the form and progress of the church, while its beliefs have remained totally Bible-based.

In 1860 at Battle Creek Michigan, the loosely knit congregations of Adventists chose the name Seventhday Adventist and in 1863 formally organized a church body with a membership of 3,500. At first work was largely confined to North America until 1874 when the Church’s first missionary, J. N. Andrews, was sent to Switzerland. Africa was penetrated briefly in 1879 when Dr. H. P. Ribton, an early convert in Italy, moved to Egypt and opened a school, but the project ended when riots broke out in the vicinity.

The first non-Protestant Christian country entered was Russia, where an Adventist minister went in 1886. On October 20, 1890, the schooner Pitcairn was launched at San Francisco and was soon engaged in carrying missionaries to the Pacific Islands. Seventh-day Adventist workers first entered non-Christian countries in 1894 ― Gold Coast (Ghana), West Africa, and Matabeleland, South Africa. The same year saw missionaries entering South America, and in 1896 there were representatives in Japan.

The Health Reform Institute, later known as the Battle Creek Sanitarium, opened its doors in 1866, and missionary society work was organized on a statewide basis in 1870. The first of the Church’s worldwide network of schools was established in 1872, and 1877 saw the formation of statewide Sabbath school associations. In 1903, the denominational headquarters was moved from Battle Creek, Michigan, to Washington, D.C., and in 1989 to Silver Spring, Maryland, where it continues to form the nerve center of ever-expanding work.

Other early Adventists of note include John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the “cornflake” developed by his brother Will and pioneer of the Battle Creek Sanitarium; Joseph Bates, retired sea captain and first leader of an Adventist administration; Uriah Smith, prolific author and inventor, and editor of the church’s paper for almost 50 years.

Adventist missionaries began work outside of North America in 1864, and ten years later J. N. Andrews was sent to Switzerland as the denomination’s first official missionary. In 1894 church operations commenced in Africa (Ghana and South Africa). Missionaries also arrived in South America in 1894, and in Japan in 1896. The church now operates in 205 countries worldwide.

The publication and distribution of literature were also major factors in the growth of the Advent movement. The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review), general church paper, was launched in Paris, Maine, in 1850; the Youth’s Instructor in Rochester, New York, in 1852; and the Signs of the Times in Oakland, California, in 1874. The first denominational publishing house at Battle Creek, Michigan, began operating in 1855 and was duly incorporated in 1861 under the name of Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association.

Adventists have a desire to reach people for Christ. One result of this desire to touch lives for God is that Adventists have built thousands of schools around the world. It also means that Seventh-day Adventist physicians and medical institutions serve individual needs in more than 98 countries, giving the highest possible quality of personal care whenever people hurt. These physicians, nurses, therapists, and other medical workers have dedicated their lives to providing physical healing so that each person can live the best possible life. Using modern medical knowledge and carefully developed skills, these workers touch thousands of lives each day, bringing healing and hope into families around the world.

Schools, hospitals, clinics, and health food factories are just one small corner of the Seventh-day Adventist commitment to improving lives. There is much more:

  1. Wherever disaster strikes, ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, joins hands with other organizations to provide clean water, food, clothing, housing, and care.
  2. Adventist publishing houses produce inspirational books, textbooks, Bible commentaries, health books, and dozens of specialized magazines in scores of languages each month. These are then delivered to millions of homes around the world, providing quality reading and information that improves lives.

    3. Local Adventist churches serve their communities by providing recreational and social activities for children and teenagers, vocational and evening education programs for adults, and spiritual programming and health clinics for all.

    4. On a worldwide scale, the church’s mission activities are exemplified in the Global Mission Initiative―to reach the unreached peoples of the world for Christ.

    5. Summer camps offer all sorts of activities, from horseback riding and water skiing to crafts and dozens of other youth activities in country environments in which children feel safe and loved. These activities are combined with a witness for God’s message to make people whole―physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.

    6. Use of modern technology also describes Adventist commitment to mission and presence in the society with messages of “Good News.” Numerous radio studios dot the Adventist broadcasting map around the globe. The same goes for production of television and other media programs. The church’s interest is best exemplified in a satellite broadcast system with more than 14,000 down-link sites, and the television 24/7 global broadcasting network for homes, the Hope Channel.

    Too often it’s easy to see all of this as just activities of the institutions and organizations of the church. But the Seventh-day Adventist Church is far more than its organizational structure and institutions. The Adventist Church is people, individual members who have caught a vision and who have chosen to live out that vision for Christ, as His hands of hope.

Growth from the early days has been dramatic. From the small group meeting in 1846 and the  organization of the church with 3,500 believers, Seventh-day Adventists now number approximately 17 million worldwide.

(this article is from the March–April 2013 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel, pages 19-20)

To read the rest of this magazine, click this link:–560.pdf

Historicity of the Hanukkah Miracle

Historicity of the Hanukkah Miracle

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Many Sabbatarians either commemorate or at least recognize the importance Hanukkah. It is a historical account filled with amazing plot lines that we can learn many lessons from today. It is the culminating event of fulfillment for many prophecies from Daniel chapter 11. However, there is one event in the Hanukkah account that may or may not have happened. It involves the relighting of the menorah. In this article, we hope to shed light on this event.

Hanukkah Story – Background
We will begin with a brief overview of the historical details leading up to the Hanukkah story. In 175 BC, there was a Greek king named Antiochus IV who ruled over the Greek Seleucid Kingdom. This kingdom spanned from modern-day Syria to near India. It went as far south as the border of Egypt. Antiochus was not content with this massive territory; he sought to conquer Egypt as well.

He tried twice and failed both times. The second failure occurred in about 168. On this expedition, the Romans opposed his expansion. Antiochus had made extensive preparations for this expedition and was determined to conquer something. Since he was deterred from Egypt, he turned his fury towards the Jewish people and especially the city of Jerusalem.

Initially, Antiochus’ forces approached Jerusalem under a banner of peace. When the army entered the city, they began to slaughter innocent people. As part of his desecration, they invaded the Temple precincts. They erected a pagan altar on top of God’s altar of sacrifice and made sacrifices to these gods with unclean animals on the 25th day of Kislev. He declared himself to be god. 

The Jewish people did not remain silent. Antiochus sent his generals into the country side to compel Jewish people to sacrifice to the Greek gods and eat unclean animal meat. Among the first men to resist this apostasy was Mattathias. He refused to compromise his beliefs and fought back. He led a group that would later become called the Maccabees.

The Jewish people fought valiantly despite serious disadvantages. They were outnumbered, had inferior equipment and had a lack of military training compared to their Greek-Syrian counterparts. Despite these apparent deficits, the Jewish people won victory after victory. It was truly miraculous how God came through for His people.

After three years of intense fighting, the Jewish people regained control of the Temple area. Once this happened, they immediately sought to purify it from defilement. They cleansed it of impurities and prepared it to be used for God’s purposes once again. This included the destruction of the old altar of sacrifice; a new one was erected using stones (according to Ex. 20:24-25). They rededicated the Temple over eight days (according to the Biblical custom – 2 Chron. 29:17).

From that time to now, the Jewish people have celebrated Chanukkah (which is a Hebrew word meaning rededication) for eight days every year. 

As part of rededicating the Temple, they had to relight the menorah. According to Jewish legend (found in the Talmud), they only found one container of pure oil that had not been defiled. The account goes on to say that they lit the menorah anyways and this one container of oil lasted eight days (the entire time of the rededication). This event is called the Hanukkah miracle.

When we read about Hanukkah and the revolt against the Greeks, the legend of the menorah being rekindled is usually given a prominent place. Some say that the miracle of the oil did not happen.  Modern people do not place as much emphasis on the military victories – which were miracles in and of themselves. In this article, we will review the historicity of the Hanukkah miracle.

Did it Really Happen?
The term historicity refers to the historical legitimacy of an event. In other words, did it really happen? Another question we hope to answer: why are the military victories not as emphasized as much by people today when we discuss Hanukkah?

Let’s start by examining the primary sources nearest these events. A primary source is a person, artifact, or some historical record that is contemporary to the time period being examined.

The first book of Maccabees was written nearest the time of the Hanukah story. This book describes the invasion of the Greeks, the courageous resistance of the Jewish people, and their victory. In it, the re-lighting of the menorah is told.

“They burned incense on the altar and lighted lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the Temple” (1 Maccabees 4:50).

The re-lighting of the Menorah is recounted as a significant event in the rededication of the Temple. This account also mentions how the menorah and altar of incense brought light to the Temple. Thus, the light emanating from the menorah (and the altar of incense) is a central theme of the rededication. However, there is no mention that there was a lack of oil for the menorah or that it burned eight days on a one-day supply.

Another historical work completed after the Hanukkah story is called the second book of Maccabees. The name for this work can be a little deceiving. It was a summary of a five volume series written by Jason of Cyrene (2 Maccabees 2:19-25). The author of second Maccabees describes the “mass of material” available in Jason’s work. These volumes recounted the story of Judas Maccabeus and the rededication of the Temple. Second Maccabees mentions the relighting of the menorah (2 Macc. 10:3). It does not mention a miraculous event. The five volumes by Jason might have contained more details about this event. Unfortunately, these volumes have been lost.

The next credible source describing these events comes from Josephus, a first century AD source. His account follows first Maccabees pretty closely. He mentions no miracles, but he does mention the menorah being rekindled. The other furniture pieces are also mentioned.

“…they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar of incense, and laid the loaves upon the table of showbread, and offered burnt offerings upon the new altar of burnt-offering…Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their temple worship for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival and call it ‘Lights’. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond all Hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival” (Antiquities, Book 12, Chapter 7).

This is a fascinating statement. Did Josephus know more than what he disclosed? He called Hanukkah ‘lights’ but gives no reason as to why it should be called that. The Greek word translated as lights in this passage literally means illumination – as emanating from a light source. His statement indicates that he may not have been completely convinced how the name “Festival of Lights” was conceived. Although, I Maccabees makes it clear the Temple was illuminated from the menorah and altar of incense. 

Josephus, 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are the primary sources closest to the Hanukkah story. The menorah being relit was obviously an important part of reclaiming the Temple. It is recalled by all of them. If some kind of miracle occurred regarding the menorah (or any other Temple furniture piece), maybe these authors did not know about it or chose to leave it out. The fact that they had religious freedom from the Greeks seems to be of the upmost importance. The Jewish people gained control of the Temple and could worship God.

Another very important point to consider in this discussion is the following: how many people would have actually been around to view any such miracle inside the temple? (if it happened) Only priests could enter the Temple and re-light the menorah. The writer of 1 Maccabees may not have had access to testimonies about those who witnessed it (if it actually happened). As aforementioned, we do not have the five volumes written by Jason.

The main sources that discuss any miracle of oil come later. The Babylonian Talmud was completed by 500 AD (but was composed over the centuries before it). In it, we read about the miracle. This was hundreds of years after the event happened.

“…When the Greeks entered the sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessing” (Shabbat 21b).

How reliable is a document that recorded an event hundreds of years after it happened? First of all, we do not know all the documents that the writers of the Talmud used to compile their books. Wars, natural disasters, and time caused documents to be lost (such as Jason’s five volumes).

Secondly, consider another example. The Torah was given to Moses around 1500 BC, but the earliest manuscripts we have date to hundreds of years later. This is true for other books of the Old Testament, such as Kings and Chronicles – both of these books have historically accurate/reliable details in them. 

Third, by the time the Talmud was written, the practice of lighting a menorah to honor Hanukkah was deeply entrenched in its celebration. It was so widely practiced that it was recorded as a necessary tradition. For instance, if you only had enough money for Shabbat wine or oil during Hanukkah, you would buy the oil (Shabbat 23b, Raba). Having a Hanukkah lamp ignited was of utmost importance. It became a requirement among Jewish people. A practice of this nature does not develop overnight. It takes time for a custom to become so entrenched that it is viewed as a requirement.

The Talmud also contains a lot of commentary on the schools of Hillel and Shammai, which we know existed in the last century BC/first century AD. Between the two schools, there was a difference of practice as it relates to Hanukkah. The school of Shammai lit eight candles on the first day of Hanukkah and then decreased the amount of candles by one each day. The school of Hillel started with one candle and increased the amount of candles each day by one (Shabbat, 21b).

Archeology bears an important witness to this practice. In 2019, The Times of Israel reported that the depiction of a nine-branch lampstand was found an ancient oil lamp in Israel. It dates to the first century AD, which is contemporary to the two schools discussed in the Talmud (to read the article about this finding, click HERE). 

In other words, there are details in the Talmud that give it a degree of historical accuracy.

One last source we will consider is a document called The Scroll of Antiochus. It is a possible primary source, but it has problems. It records military victory, but also the miracle of the oil. It has some historical inaccuracies, but other correct details.

The main problem with this scroll is that scholars debate the time period in which it was written. The dates range from the first century through the eleventh century AD. This is a pretty large discrepancy. The majority of scholars settle for a fifth century to seventh century dating because it is mentioned in other writings (the Gedolos in 600 AD; Saadia Gaon in the 800s AD). Nissim b Jacob (around 1000 AD) attributed the scroll on the same level as Scriptural canon. We know that in the 1200s, the scroll was read every Hanukkah in Italy.

We have given a fair overview of sources that recount the Hanukkah story and the possibility of a menorah miracle or a lack thereof. Perhaps it is important to return to our original question: Why was the miracle of the oil found in the Talmud and emphasized by later writers, but not by those nearest it?

The earliest sources mention the great military victories and briefly address the re-lightning of the menorah. Perhaps the long-term fruit of the Maccabee revolt will guide us towards resolving some of the issues between sources closer to the event and those that are farther away.

The Temple was rededicated around 165 BC. In 142 BC, the Jewish people finally won their political independence from the Greeks. Simon was proclaimed the leader and high priest of the Jewish people forever until a faithful prophet should arise. Just three years later, the Roman Senate recognized their dynasty. So many good things seemed to be happening.

Regrettably, these good times did not last.

Simon was murdered in 135. John Hyrcanus then became the ruler until 104. He wanted to make his wife queen after his death and his oldest son, Aristobulus, the high priest. Aristobulus did not like this plan. Once his father died, he cast his mother and other brothers in prison. His mother starved to death, and he put one of his brothers, Antigonus, to death. He died about one year after becoming king.

From 103 to 76, Alexander Jannaeus, a different son of John Hyrcanus, ruled. After his death, his wife Alexandra became queen for a short time. Not long afterwards, a civil war raged across Judea. The Roman general Pompey intervened in the conflict and put the country of Judea under Roman supervision. The Jewish people lost some political freedoms and were forced to pay tribute.

From 63-40 BC, Hyrcanus II supervised the government on behalf of the Romans; he was the high priest. The Parthians briefly conquered Judea around 40. They proclaimed Antigonus as king and high priest over Judea. For the next three years, there was contention as Herod, the pro-Roman antagonist, fought for control of the throne against Antigonus. Herod eventually gained control of the country in 37 BC. He became the founder of the Herodian dynasty. The Romans allowed Antigonus to be put to death; he was the first king the Romans put to death (they usually kept kings captive). The Hasmonean dynasty ended.

This is a brief overview of the events that occurred immediately after the Maccabean revolt. Thus, the initial revolt was successful and involved great military exploits. However, the long-term actions of the Hasmonean dynasty were marred with failure. There was betrayal, murder and civil war. The country lost its sovereignty and became subject to another empire – Rome. The city was destroyed twice and the Jewish people banned from even approaching it. These events sound like a combination of accounts from the Biblical books of Judges with 1 and 2 Kings.

Now that we have reviewed these details, we can have a better perspective of Hanukkah.

If you were writing, what events might you emphasize?

The people who lived immediately after the Jewish victory focused much on the military victories. As stated above, these would have been considered miraculous by ancient or modern standards. Those who lived in the century or so that followed saw the long-term fruit of that Maccabeean revolt, which was contrary to the very purpose of it (freedom to worship God). They did not value the military victories as much.

The concept that there was an insufficient supply of Levitically clean oil is not absurd, especially considering what the Greeks did to the Temple. If there was a shortage of oil, then it would have taken a miracle to keep the menorah burning for the dedication process. The holy oil for the Temple required a special process and time to refine it.

The fact that the menorah was rekindled (along with the altar of incense and the altar of sacrifice) is recounted by primary sources. It is a significant part of the Temple regaining its light. Josephus even calls it the Feast of Lights. The New Testament calls it the Dedication in John 10:22 (literally, “in newness” or “in refreshing”). This is a reference to the rededication of the Temple. Considering all the details gives the miracle story a little bit more merit – but its still not clear what happened.

We know the menorah was relit; we know the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. Our minds are still left to wonder the specific details and conditions surrounding the menorah when it was rekindled.

At the very least, let us consider their struggle to rededicate the Temple as we rededicate our own. What miracles have happened in your life as you sought to dedicate yourself to God?


Babylonian Talmud. Accessed through

Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. 1737. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 12, Chapter 7. p 302.

First and Second Book of Maccabees (Revised Standard Version). 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Jewish Encyclopedia 1905: Antigonus Mattathias, Aristobulus I, Aristobulus II, Scroll of Antiochus, Hasmoneans, Hyrcanus, John.

Moore, George Foot. Judaism in the First Centuries of the Chris-tian Era the Age of the Tannaim. Vol. 2 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932. pp 49-51.

Times of Israel. “2,000-year-old image of 9-stem menorah found in rare Jewish site in Beersheba”. April 4, 2019. Accessed online:

July 3, 321 AD – Constantine’s Second Sunday Law

July 3, 321 AD – Constantine’s Second Sunday Law

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

On July 3, 321 AD, Constantine issued his second Sunday law. It gave people freedom from most kinds of legal business on the day. However, proceedings to free slaves was allowed.  The copy of this law, which is found in Codex Theodosianus 2.8.1, is as follows:

“Emperor Constantine Augustus to Helpidius. “Just as it appears to Us most unseemly that the Day of the Sun, which is celebrated on account of its own veneration, should be occupied with legal altercations and with noxious controversies of the litigation of contending parties, so it is pleasant and fitting that those acts which are especially desired shall be accomplished on that day. 1. Therefore all men shall have the right to emancipate and to manumit on this festive day*, and the legal formalities thereof are not forbidden” (Pharr, 44).
*The Latin translated as festive day is “die festo.”

In the past, I and others who studied this subject have tended to view Constantine’s Sunday laws from the perspective of Church history (to read Constantine’s first Sunday law, CLICK HERE). Upon further review, I have found no Christian meaning in these laws. We also cannot assume that there would be any such meaning intended. He venerated the sun in several ways (which we will discuss later). Moreover, the Roman Church did not have a developed theology about Sunday rest in 321 AD. The first Roman Church Council to discuss Sunday rest does not occur until about 364 (Laodicea). How then should we view these Sunday laws?

At the time these laws were issued, Constantine was Western Roman Emperor. He also held the title Pontifex Maximus, which carried with it certain responsibilities that impact this subject matter.

The Romans had established religious traditions that spanned many centuries prior to his reign. For instance, the early Roman religion employed a college of priests called pontiffs; the head of it was titled pontifex maximus. Their duties included regulation of the sacred calendar of festivals and announce when they occurred in the year (especially the Pontifex Maximus).

In the 40s BC, Julius Caesar wielded the title of the Pontifex Maximus in addition to having the political titles of Consul and Dictator. Using his religious authority, he made major changes to the calendar. The Roman Empire was established not long afterwards. Emperors followed his example of taking on the position of Pontifex Maximus. They held the title until sometime in the 370s/380s AD. Though they did not always follow the pontifical regulations with precision, they often used it properly to change the length of festivals or institute new ones.

Since Constantine held the title Pontifex Maximus, it means that he would be responsible for making certain decisions to govern the ancient religious traditions of the Roman people. One clear instance of this occurred on December 17, 320. He issued a law which permitted and defined the behavior of the pagan haruspices; it was received on the day after his first Sunday law (March 8, 321; CT: 16.10.1). Tacitus, writing a couple of centuries earlier, mentioned that pontiffs were involved with overseeing the haruspices (Annals, 11.15).

While the pontifical authority is important, religious tradition was also a serious concern to the Romans. Cicero, who lived from approximately 106 to 43 BC, was a major contributor to Roman thought as a statesman and lawyer. In his work On Law, he described special characteristics of the ancient Roman celebrations.

“Next, our provision for holidays and festivals* ordains rest from lawsuits and controversies for free men, and from labour and toil for slaves. Whoever plans the official year ought to arrange that these festivals shall come at the completion of the various labours of the farm…” (idem, 2.12[29]).
*The latin reads: “feriarum festorumque dierum.”

The principles described by Cicero continued to be applied to Roman festivals during the Imperial period. This included the Saturnalia (Dec 17-24) and the Kalends of January (Jan 1-3). To read more about how these Roman religious concepts were applied to these festivals, see the Appendix at the end of this article.

Constantine’s 321 Sunday laws matched the anticipated patterns for festivals described by Cicero and other Roman authors. The issues of work and agricultural toils were addressed in the first law (March 7). While farmers were not granted rest on the day, their position was discussed to be consistent with other festivals. Many annual festivals related in some way to the harvest cycle. It was logical not to allow farmers off on Sunday since there is not a weekly crop. In the second law, most legal proceedings were suspended and freedom for slaves were addressed (July 3). The Latin word festo was employed in this law.

Another factor to be considered with this topic is the prevalence of sun worship. In the century leading up to Constantine’s reign, the Empire experienced the elevation of sun worship in the entity of Sol Invictus. At times, Sol was the highest object of worship. In the early 270s, Aurelian honored Sol with the title ‘lord of the Empire.’ He instituted annual games to the sun that were still celebrated in Constantine’s time (and decades afterwards). By the time Constantine became Western Emperor (312), reverence for Sol Invictus was an imperial heritage (albeit nuanced). He honored Sol on monuments and coins (Click HERE to learn more about Constantine’s veneration for the sun).

When we review the information presented thus far in the article, Constantine’s Sunday laws become better understood.  The Christian influence is absent. Instead, Constantine simultaneously merged two Roman ideals; one was older and the other newer.

He utilized the old title Pontifex Maximus to establish a festival on Sunday. Between the two laws, he discussed the necessary subjects according to ancient custom: labor, agricultural, and courts. At the same time, the focus of the law was the sun or Sol, which was a more recent development. This continued the newer custom.

There are two other examples that exemplify his use of Pontifex. In an inscription found in the Balkans region, we learn that Constantine adjusted the ancient Roman nundinae or market day so that it would occur every dies solis (Sunday) instead of every eighth day (Orellius, p 140). This was hardly a move to support any sort of Sabbath-rest on the day.

This finding reinforces his pontifical merger of the old and new systems. Later in his life, he utilized pontifical authority to order a temple to be built and a priesthood established for the worship of his family lineage. This continued the Imperial cult which started with Octavian Augustus (Roman Civilization, Selected Readings, pp 579-580).

Constantine’s Sun-day laws were qualitatively different than other Roman celebrations in that they established and regulated a weekly festival. The name Sun-day was a common name for this day of the week among pagans who adhered to the astrological planetary week. Neither of the 321 laws labeled Sunday the first day of the week or the Lord’s day, which would be expected if Roman Church influence were present. Also, there was no mention of congregational gatherings. Dies solis was the second day of the week in the planetary weekly cycle (more on this subject in a future work).

We will briefly discuss how this analysis influences our view of contemporary Christian writers. In the mid 320s AD, the Christian writer Eusebius wrote a work called Church History. In it, he does not mention these Sunday laws at all. Over ten years later he wrote a biography on Constantine called The Life of Constantine. In it, he mentions the Sunday laws and adds Christian meaning to them (idem, 4.18). What was the intervening event?

In about 330 AD, Eusebius wrote a Commentary on Psalm 92. In it, he proposed that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday (Odom, pp 291-292). Christian writers starting with him (especially from the Pro-Roman Church perspective) tried to attach Christian meaning to the 321 Sunday laws.

While many Christians who study this subject assume Constantine was influenced by Christians like Eusebius, it was most likely the opposite. Eusebius most likely derived his views on Sunday rest at least in part from the 321 Sunday laws rather than the other way around. In other words, he used these laws as an opportunity to further his transference agenda. Over ten years after the work Church History, He added meaning to the description of these laws that would fit his viewpoint.

The Emperor never ascribed Christian meaning to these laws. He did not even try to make Sunday an imitation day of the Biblical Sabbath because key elements, such as requiring rest for all people, are absent. The necessary elements from Roman tradition were addressed.

As we have discussed previously, Constantine upheld protections for Biblical Sabbath observance (CLICK HERE to read how Constantine protected Sabbath observance). This means he was not involved in the ‘Sabbath transference’ theology of Eusebius.

Eusebius established a precedent which would be followed by future Christian historians (see Sozomen, Church History, 1.8). And so the tone was set for centuries to come. People ascribed meaning to these laws that cannot be derived from the language used in them or the example of the person who enacted them.

After this analysis we are left with the conclusion that Constantine was not inspired by the Bible or any Christian leader to enact Sunday laws. He exercised the authority of the Pontifex Maximus to establish Sunday as the weekly festival. In doing so, he considered ancient traditions regarding festo. Additionally, he incorporated the newly popularized adoration of Sol. Though the issue of Sunday rest was not settled in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries later, Christian authors used his laws to their advantage to push for Sunday observance as a replacement for the Biblical Sabbath.

By viewing the laws from the viewpoint of Roman history, a new paradigm is established to interpret them with more historical accuracy.

We now have a FREE book about Constantine that you can download! Just CLICK HERE to download!

God Bless!

Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President –

Article Appendix
Constantine’s Sunday law mirrors other ancient Roman celebrations such as Saturnalia and the Kalends of January.

Lucian of Samosata, who lived (125-180 AD), wrote about the celebration of Saturnalia (it started December 17). At times, this celebration was held for just a few days. In later years in was extended for up to seven days. Saturn was the main deity remembered during this time, but others were also extolled. Lucian commented on the freedom from work and business were granted to the people during it. 

“To begin with, it only lasts a week; that over, I am a private person, just a man in the street. Secondly, during my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water – such are the functions over which I preside… therefore the merry noise on every side, the son and the games; therefore the slave and the free as one…All business, be it public or private is forbidden during the feast days…all men shall be equal, slave and free, rich and poor, one with another…” ((Saturnalia, sections 2, 7; Chronosolon, sections 13-14).

Marcobius wrote about the issue of legal proceedings. It seems that at times lawsuits were barred just on a few days during this seven-day extravaganza (Saturnalia, 1.10.4-5).

Libianus, who lived from 314 to 394 AD, described the widespread celebration of the Kalends of January. Paganism was still strong in the Roman world of that time. This celebration was held from January 1 through 3. He wrote:

“The festival of the Kalends, is celebrated everywhere as far as the limits of the Roman Empire extend … A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides … The highroads and footpaths are covered with whole processions of laden men and beasts … As the thousand flowers which burst forth everywhere are the adornment of Spring, so are the thousand presents poured out on all sides, the decorations of the Kalends feast. It may justly be said that it is the fairest time of the year…. The Kalends festival banishes all that is connected with toil, and allows men to give themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment. From the minds of young people it removes two kinds of dread: the dread of the schoolmaster and the dread of the stern pedagogue. The slave also it allows, as far as possible, to breathe the air of freedom…” (quoted from Miles, 168–9).

Works Cited

Catholic Encyclopedia 1911: Constantine the Great; Eusebius of Caesarea

Cicero, On Law, 2.12(29). Translated by Clinton Walker Keyes. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1928. pp 406-407.

Eusebius. The Life of Constantine, 4:18. McGiffert, Rev. Arthur Cushman. Schaff and Wace, ed. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. Second Series. Vol. 1: Eusebius. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1904. p 544.

Lewis, Naphtali and Reinhold, Meyer. Roman Civilization: Selected Readings. Vol 2: The Empire. 3rd ed. New York: Columbia Press. 1990. pp 579-580.

Libanius. Oration 9. Miles, C. 1912. Christmas in ritual and tradition, Christian and Pagan. London: T. Fisher Unwin, pp 168–169.

Lucian of Samasota. Saturnalia, sections 2, 7; Chronosolon, sections 13-14. Translated by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Vol. 4. Oxford, 1905, pp 108-116.

Macrobius. Saturnalia, 1.10.4-5. Translated and edited by Robert A Kaster. Books 1-2. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2011, pp 105-106.

Odom, Robert L. Sabbath and Sunday in Early Christianity. Review Herald Publishing Association. Washington, DC: 1977. pp 291-292.

Pharr, Clyde, Trans. The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions. Princeton University, 1952. p 44.

Tacitus. The Annals, 11.15. Latin: Holbrooke, Geo. O, ed. London: Macmillan & Co. 1882. p 257. English: The Annals of Tacitus. Translated by George Gilbert Ramsay. London: John Murray, 1909. p 19.

Orellius, Johann Caspar. Inscriptionum Latinarum Selectarum Amplissima Collecto. Romanae Antiquitatis. vol 1. 1828. no 508, p 140.

Why Study Church History?

Why Study Church History?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Over the next 6-8 months, we are going to have articles examining Christian history in the second century AD. These articles will help us understand our need to study Church history.

In the second century AD, events took place that had a tremendous impact on Christianity. There was a sudden flood of influence from Roman culture, Greek philosophy, and other religions. People tried to mix these different viewpoints with the Bible. They would then try to label this mixture as true or pure Christianity.

Among the false teachings that appeared during this time are as follows: the belief that Jesus came to destroy the “God of the Jews”; the belief that an inferior god created physical matter and a superior God made spiritual things; the belief that the Sabbath belonged to another deity; and many other strange views. The teachers of this time tried to mix known writings of the New Testament with their own ideas to form a new, hybrid canon of Scripture.

In this same period, we find a number of writers who tried to combat these heresies.  One of their greatest tools in this battle was their knowledge of history!

As we undergo this months-long study, we will learn that there are three main reasons to study Church history.

The first reason that we need to have at least a general understanding of Church History/Roman history is that it will help you to identify teachings that are not compatible with the Bible. Let’s look at a few examples.

One of the main heretics in the second century was a man named Marcion. Hippolytus, who opposed him, wrote that Marcion copied the teachings of an ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles, who lived in the 400s BC [Refutation of All Heresies, bk 7, ch 17-20]). He refuted Marcion’s claim that his teachings came from the first Apostles by appealing to the similarity of teachings between Marcion and Empedocles.

It became mainstream to syncretize Christianity with Greek philosophies, including Plato. Clement of Alexandria justified the concept of an eight-day week from Plato and the number eight (Stromata, 5:14). The eight-day week does not exist in the Bible (it was a Roman practice). Besides, Plato was a heathen philosopher. Why would we use him to explain any practice?

Many of the second-century heretics tried to claim that they were in a line of apostolic succession from the very beginning. To counter this assertion, the writer Tertullian appealed to the historical record of bishops in every city to show that these heretics had no such connection (Tertullian, Against Heresy, chapter 32). Tertullian referred to documents that existed in his day.

A second reason to study Church history is that such knowledge can help us avoid mistakes of the past or to repeat successes. Let me give you a great example.

At certain points in history, Christians have tried to predict when Jesus was coming back. This goes back as far as the 1500s (and possibly earlier). Hans Hut thought the Kingdom of God would come in 1528. The Millerites thought Jesus would come back in the 1840s. There have been other such predictions (such as those in the 1900s).

What is the valuable lesson we can learn here?

We don’t need to make predictions about when Jesus will come back. It will only cause humiliation and loss. In fact, Jesus said, “no man knows the day or the hour” (Matt. 24:36).

The common thread from these historical examples is that we need to avoid extra Biblical beliefs. In the second century, some people tried to exchange the Bible for Greek philosophy. In the case of predictions, they just ignored Scripture altogether.

Third, our knowledge of history will enhance our understanding of certain Scriptures that are taken out of context.

When we know our history – where we came from and what we have been through – we can better direct our advancement of the gospel and protect ourselves from false teachings.

In the months to come, we will bring each of these items to life in our series on the second-century Church. It was the century that had the greatest influence on modern Christianity and explains the rise of people who desire to return to the first century church.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President

Theophilus of Antioch – 160-180s AD

Theophilus of Antioch – 160s-180s AD

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the mid-second century, a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Sabbatarian teachers arose. Rome and Alexandria seemed to be the centers of this movement. Despite this development, there were still many Christians who held to the commandments of God. Among them was a special man named Theophilus.

Theophilus was the Bishop of Antioch and the sixth Bishop of the city since the time of the Apostles. He and others, like Polycarp, opposed heretics such as Marcion. He taught strongly and positively about the importance of the Ten Commandments.

“‘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, book 2, Chapters 11-12).

“Wherefore also on the fourth day the lights were made. The disposition of the stars, too, contains a type of the arrangement and order of the righteous and pious, and of those who keep the law and commandments of God. For the brilliant and bright stars are an imitation of the prophets, and therefore they remain fixed, not declining, nor passing from place to place. And those which hold the second place in brightness, are types of the people of the righteous. And those, again,, which change their position, and flee from place to place, which also are cared planets, they too are a type of the men who have wandered from God, abandoning His law and commandments” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 15).

“… if he [mankind] should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality…For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption” (To Autolycus, book 2, Chapters 27).

“…we have learned a holy law; but we have as lawgiver Him who is really God, who teaches us to act righteously, and to be pious, and to do good…Of this great and wonderful law, which tends to all righteousness, the ten heads are such as we have already rehearsed…” (To Autolycus, book 3, Chapters 9).

Notice that Theophilus had a significant emphasis on obedience to the Ten Commandments. He respected God’s law. He also reiterated that God rested on the seventh day and that “all men acknowledge” this day as the Sabbath. He also noted that the term Sabbath is retained in the languages of every nation. Many languages today still reflect this. Josephus said Biblical practices such as the Sabbath had spread to every nation on earth (Appion 2.40). In other places he spoke strongly against idols (bk 1:10, bk 2:34-35, bk 3:9).

Eusebius, a fourth century historian, mentions the stand he took against heresy and the anti-Sabbatarian teachers: “Of Theophilus, whom we have mentioned as bishop of the church of Antioch…another writing entitled Against the Heresy of Hermogenes, in which he makes use of testimonies from the Apocalypse of John, and finally certain other catechetical books… And as the heretics, no less then than at other times, were like tares, destroying the pure harvest of apostolic teaching…And that Theophilus also, with the others, contended against them, is manifest from a certain discourse of no common merit written by him against Marcion” (Eusebius, Church History, Book 4, Chapter 24).

In future articles, we will review the heretics that rose in the second century and why believers like Theophilus became so instrumental to continue the faith once delivered to the saints.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –



Fasting on the Sabbath in the Middle Ages

Fasting on the Sabbath in the Middle Ages

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the first two parts of this series, we reviewed the early history of fasting on the Sabbath. To read parts one and two, click the following links: Part 1 [click here] and Part 2 [click here].

The concept of mandatory fasting every weekly Sabbath is never suggested in the Bible. It was introduced through the heretic Marcion in the mid second century AD. Most of Christianity, including the Roman Church, initially condemned Marcion and this practice. However, the Sabbath fast was later utilized by the Roman Church as a tool to denigrate and demean the Sabbath’s importance. In the early 400s AD, Pope Innocent I made it mandatory. At times, those who refused to comply were ostracized.

In part two of the series, we reviewed how the Eastern Churches refused the practice of a mandatory Sabbath fast. The Trullan Synod was held in the early 690s AD with the approval of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian II. It condemned the Saturday fast imposed by Rome on the basis of the fourth/fifth century work called The Apostolic Canons.

After this brief review of fasting on the Sabbath, we can now move into sources in the Middle Ages on this subject. The Sabbath fast continued to appear in Church History.

Opposition to the Sabbath fast reached its height in the ninth and eleventh centuries. In 867, Photius I was the patriarch of Constantinople. This position meant to the Eastern Churches what the Pope/Bishop of Rome means to Western Churches.

With the support of the Emperor, Photius excommunicated the Western Churches. His reasoning rested on five points of disagreement. The first point listed was fasting on the Sabbath. He went so far as to say that the Latins were “…forerunners of apostasy, servants of Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, liars, fighters against God” (Catholic Encyclopedia: Photius of Constantinople). Of course, Photius might have said some of these things because the Pope tried to depose and excommunicate him.

This schism was healed during the patriarchy of Antony II (893-895), but this reunion did not last. The anti-Roman sentiment left by Photius’ supporters carried on for centuries into the future.

The permanent separation of Western and Eastern Churches occurred in 1053/1054. This is called the Great Schism. The patriarch Michael Cærularius sent a letter to the Pope complaining about several points of practice that he believed to be unorthodox. Among them was fasting on Sabbath. He closed all the Western Churches in Constantinople and the schism again was established.

Not long after this, Pope Gregory VII changed the Saturday fast from a complete abstention of foods to that of only meats. In the Council of Rome 1078, canon seven ruled that no one should eat meat on Saturday unless another church festival occurred on that day of the week (Mansi, 20:510).

In this same century, Saturday was dedicated by the Catholic Church to Mary. Pope Urban II, who declared the first Crusade, was behind this official declaration. At the Council of Clermont in 1095, he commanded that “It is mandatory for all Christians that they should recite the office of the Blessed virgin on every Sabbath day” (Mansi, 20:820-821). The 16th/17th century Cardinal Caesar Baronus lists this as canon 33 of the council (Annles Ecclesiastici, volume 18, 1869, p 22).

The practice of fasting from meat on the Sabbath and honoring Mary became intertwined over the following centuries. We have a timeline of some councils that confirm this conclusion.

1219 – The Council of Toulouse – Canon 3 ruled that clergy were required to go to church on Saturday to honor Mary.

1229 – Council of Toulouse – Canon 25 enforced a fine of 12 denarios if someone did not attend any of the sacred services of the church. It adds that people were required to attend services to reverence Mary on the evening of the Sabbath (Mansi, 23:200).

1337 – Council of Avignon –In canon 5, clergy in the Catholic Church were required to fast from meat on Saturdays in honor of the Virgin Mary. They hoped this would set a good example for the laity.

1351 – Council of Besiers – In canon 7, all those in the clergy were required to fast from meat on Saturdays.

1368 – Council of Lavaur – Canon 90 instructed all clergy to fast from meat on Saturdays for Mary. In canons 123 and 124, those Christians who prayed for the pope during the mass of Mary on Saturday would receive an indulgence.

1450 – Council of Constantinople – This Council was an attempt to reunite the Latin and Greek churches just before the fall of Constantinople.  Among the disagreements they attempted to work out was the Saturday Fast of the Latin Churches. It was not long after this that the city of Constantinople was overtaken by Muslim invaders.

This gives you a brief history of the Sabbath fast during the Middle Ages. It became a requirement sometimes on everyone and at other times just on clergy to abstain from meat and honor Mary on the Sabbath. This is the most likely explanation as to why the Roman Catholic Church practices Saturday mass today.

Mandatory Sabbath fasting is not a practice that we should adopt. Also, the Sabbath was dedicated to God. Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, not Mary. These non-Biblical practices gradually were adopted by the Roman Church.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

President, Bible Sabbath Association (

Fasting on the Sabbath in Early Christianity (Part 2)

Fasting on the Sabbath in Early Christianity (Part 2)

In the first part of this series (CLICK HERE to read part one), we reviewed the early history of fasting on the Sabbath. It was started by the heretic Marcion, but later adopted by the Roman Church as a routine discipline. This unfortunate practice was a way that the Roman Church attempted to demean or diminish the importance of God’s Sabbath.

Pope Innocent I (401-417 AD)

In the early fifth century, Pope Innocent I made a formal support of fasting on the Sabbath. In Epistle 25, section 4 he wrote: “Certainly, it is evident why we should fast on the Sabbath…” he went on to explain that we should fast on the Sabbath because Christ was in the tomb at that time – and that makes it a sad day. He taught that we fast on Sabbath out of sadness and then celebrate on Sunday to honor the resurrection. (JP Migne. Patrologiae, Cursus Completus. Series Prima. Vol 20. Latina. Paris, 1845. page 555. – Latin translation is mine).

To my knowledge, he is the first Bishop of Rome to issue a formal decretal regarding the Sabbath fast. Other well-known authors of the time discussed the issue.

Augustine (396-405)

We have two quotes from Augustine, who is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The first quote is from a letter written to Casulanus. The second quote is from a letter written to Jerome, who is also venerated by the Roman Church. In it, we learn that the vast majority of Christianity refused to fast on the Sabbath because they still revered the day to the Lord.

Augustine to Casulanus (396)

“This question I would wish to see him investigate, and resolve in such a manner as would not involve him in the guilt of openly speaking against the whole Church diffused throughout the world, with the exception of the Roman Christians, and hitherto a few of the Western communities. Is it, I ask, to be endured among the entire Eastern Christian communities, and many of those in the West, that this man should say of so many and so eminent servants of Christ, who on the seventh day of the week refresh themselves soberly and moderately with food, that they are in the flesh, and cannot please God; and that of them it is written, “Let the wicked depart from me, I will not know their way; and that they make their belly their god”, that they prefer Jewish rites to those of the Church, and are sons of the bondwoman…” (Letter 36, Chapter 2, Sec. 4)

Augustine to Jerome (405 AD)

“For if we say that it is wrong to fast on the seventh day, we shall condemn not only the Church of Rome, but also many other churches, both neighbouring and more remote, in which the same custom continues to be observed. If, on the other hand, we pronounce it wrong not to fast on the seventh day, how great is our presumption in censuring so many churches in the East, and by far the greater part of the Christian world!” (Letter 82, sec. 14)

John Cassian (420-429)

John Cassian was a writer of the fifth century who recorded practices and customs of Christianity at that time. He affirmed that fasting on the Sabbath was a non-Apostolic practice and simply a tradition without any authority. He also gave a further elaboration on the justification some gave for the Sabbath fast. Apparently, some thought that Peter fasted on the Sabbath before his encounter with Simon Magus in Acts chapter 8. There is no Scriptural evidence for this statement and it does not agree with Pope Innocent’s reasoning for doing so.

“And throughout the whole of the East it has been settled, ever since the time of the preaching of the Apostles, when the Christian faith and religion was founded, that these Vigils should be celebrated as the Sabbath dawns…And so, after the exertion of the Vigil, a dispensation from fasting, appointed in like manner for the Sabbath by apostolic men, is not without reason enjoined in all the churches of the East… For this dispensation from fasting must not be understood as a participation in the Jewish festival by those above all who are shown to be free from all Jewish superstition, but as contributing to that rest of the wearied body of which we have spoken…” (Institutes, chapter 9).

“But some people in some countries of the West, and especially in the city [Rome], not knowing the reason of this indulgence, think that a dispensation from fasting ought certainly not to be allowed on the Sabbath, because they say that on this day the Apostle Peter fasted before his encounter with Simon. But from this it is quite clear that he did this not in accordance with a canonical rule, but rather through the needs of his impending struggle….but no canonical rule of fasting would have been made general from this, because it was no general observance that led to it, but a matter of necessity, which forced it to be observed on a single occasion” (Institutes, 3:9,10).

Trullan Synod (692)

The Trullan Synod (also called Quinisext) was ordered by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian II towards the end of the seventh century; various representatives of the East were present. It challenged Rome on certain issues and was an attempt to place the city of Constantinople on the same authority as Rome. In the second canon of this council, all 85 canons from the work entitled Apostolic Canons were reinforced as ecclesiastical law (the Apostolic Canons are not Apostolic as they date from the third or fourth century at the earliest). This stance was contrary to Rome, who only recognized the first 50 canons. Further, the canons from Laodicea were upheld (which were very anti-Sabbatarian).

102 Canons were published at this synod. Canon 55 prohibited people from fasting on Saturday (citing the Apostolic Canons as the reason for this rule). While fasting on the Sabbath was routine at Rome, it was banned in the East. Canon 80 forced mandatory Sunday church attendance. After three weeks of missed church, a person was punished with excommunication.

The Trullan Synod was an attempt to correct fasting on the Sabbath. Sunday was also enforced, which is a testimony to the fact that it was not as strictly observed as one might think. The Sabbath was still an important day of worship (Hefele, vol 5, 221-242).

In conclusion, the practice of fasting on the Sabbath gradually entered Christianity in the second century, but became common place in the West by the sixth or seventh century AD. The Sabbath fast was discouraged and opposed by the Eastern Church. This issue was one the main reasons why the Western and Eastern churches split from each other in 867 and finally in 1054.

CLICK HERE To learn more about fasting in the Middle Ages.

God Bless!

Kelly McDonald, Jr

BSA President;

Fasting on the Sabbath in Early Christianity (Part 1)

Fasting on the Sabbath in Early Christianity (Part 1)

One of the ways that the Sabbath was attacked by satan in early Christianity was the idea that believers were required to fast on it. While the Roman Church condemned this practice at first, they gradually accepted the practice. In this two-part series, we will look at fasting on the Sabbath in the early church using primary source quotes.

In the New Testament, we learn that the Jewish people fasted two days every week. In one parable, Jesus quoted a Pharisee as saying, “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:12). From other primary sources, we learn that they fasted on Monday and Thursday.

The Didache is an early Christian document that is usually dated to the second century (though some date it earlier). In it, we learn various practices of early Christians. One of them was to fast every Wednesday and Friday. We have a quote from this work below.

Didache (early 100s AD)
“But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but fast on the fourth day and the Preparation” (idem, chapter 8).

Fasting on Wednesday and Friday seems to be driven by a motivation to be different than the weekly fast days of the Jewish people. This should not necessarily be taken as a form of anti-Semitism. The term preparation day was used for Friday. This indicates that the Sabbath was observed by the authors. The institution of fasting on these days would be crucial to this subject later in the second century.

Marcion (144 AD)
The first individual in the Christian Era I can find who advocated fasting on the Sabbath was Marcion, the infamous heretic of the second century. “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., 42.3.4, from Bingham, 1139). He had strong influence in the city of Rome in the mid-second century. Eventually, he was condemned as a heretic even by the Roman Church.

Tertullian (206 AD)
Tertullian (160-218) became a Montanist in 206. He wrote a work On Fasting at this time. He also wrote Against Marcion. In both works, he took a decidedly pro-Sabbath stance; he rebuked the practice of fasting on the Sabbath except one Sabbath out of the year – the one before Passover. We have two quotes from him below.

“Why do we devote to Stations the fourth and sixth days of the week, and to fasts the preparation-day? Anyhow, you sometimes continue your Station even over the Sabbath — a day never to be kept as a fast except at the passover season, according to a reason elsewhere given…” (On Fasting, chapter 14)

“For from the Creator’s Scripture, and from the purpose of Christ, there is derived a colorable precedent — as from the example of David, when he went into the temple on the Sabbath, and provided food by boldly breaking up the show-bread. Even he remembered that this privilege (I mean the dispensation from fasting) was allowed to the Sabbath from the very beginning, when the Sabbath day itself was instituted….In short, He would have then and there put an end to the Sabbath, nay, to the Creator Himself, if He had commanded His disciples to fast on the Sabbath day, contrary to the intention of the Scripture and of the Creator’s will… the prophet Elisha on this day restored to life the dead son of the Shunammite woman, you see, O Pharisee, and you too, O Marcion, how that it was proper employment for the Creator’s Sabbaths of old to do good, to save life, not to destroy it; how that Christ introduced nothing new…” (Against Marcion, 4.12).

It is not abundant whether his work On Fasting is referring to Marcion or not. One way or the other, the practice of extending the Preparation Day fast into Sabbath existed in his time. This may have existed separate from the Marcionites who definitely fasted on the Sabbath.

Hippolytus (204 AD)
Hippolytus was a bishop who broke off from the Roman Church. Among his qualms the practice of fasting on the Sabbath. His break with the Roman Church may have been because of decrees such as that of Callixtus, who we will review next.

In the early third century, Hippolytus wrote: “And now some undertake the same things, clinging to vain visions and to the teachings of demons and often determining a fast both on the Sabbath and the Lord’s day, which Christ did not determine, so that they dishonor the Gospel of Christ” (Commentary on Daniel, 4.20.3; TC Schmidt version).

Callixtus (218-220 AD)
It is possible that Callixtus, the bishop of Rome from 218-220, also enforced some sort of Sabbath fast. It may have only been a partial fast on certain Sabbaths in the year. The ancient document Liber Pontificalis reads:

“He instituted a fast from corn, wine and oil upon the Sabbath day thrice in the year, according to the word of the prophet, of a fourth, of a seventh, and of a tenth.” (Translated by Loomis, XVII, p 20).

Victorinus (250-303 AD)
Victorinus advocated fasting on the Sabbath eve (Friday night). Those who honor the Sabbath spend Friday in preparation for it; we often call it preparation day. Victorinus proposed that the Friday fast (which was already common in the Roman Church) be extended or ‘super positioned’ into Friday night. His reasoning contained a tinge of anti-Semitism. He does not ground his proposed observance in any passage of Scripture, but rather due to a disdain for the Jewish people.

When we read the original Latin text, we learn that he advocated this superimposed fast into the beginning of Sabbath “…lest we appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews” [in Latin, the broader context reads: Hoc die solemus superponere; idcirco ut die dominico cum gratiarum actione ad panem exeamus. Et parascve superpositio fiat, ne quid cum Judaeis Sabbatum observare vidamur”]. (See: A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities: Edited by William Smith and Samuel Cheetham. Vol 2. Hartford: The J.B. Burr Publishing Co. 1880. p 1825; Latin was taken from: J.P. Migne, PL 5:306).

Council of Elvira (300-306 AD)
The Council of Elvira or Eliberis was held in Spain in the early fourth century. Two canons have to do with the subject matter at hand. In Canon 21, any one was excommunicated who neglected to come to church three Sundays in a row. In Canon 26, a strict fast was enforced every Sabbath. It had been either neglected or suppressed. We can clearly see that neither Sunday attendance nor the Sabbath fast were being regularly practiced (Hefele, 1:145-147).

Sylvester (314-335 AD)
Some people say Sylvester was the first pope to enforce fasting on the Sabbath. However, I have found the evidence of this lacking. The only evidence we have suggesting this idea are some letters written by Catholic representatives who lived 500-700 years after him. These letters simply state that he started the trend. There is a lack of primary source evidence regarding Sylvester in general, especially on this subject. We cannot be certain.

Ambrose (340s-397 AD)
The Catholic saint Augustine wrote several letters that reference fasting on the Sabbath. In Letter 54, he quoted Ambrose, who lived between 340-397 AD. In it, we learn that Rome followed the practice of fasting on the Sabbath even though nearby cities did not. “When I visit Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am here [Milan], I do not fast. On the same principle, do you observe the custom prevailing in whatever Church you come to, if you desire neither to give offense by your conduct, nor to find cause of offense in another’s” (Augustine, Epistle 54.3).

While Milan was closer to Rome than other parts of the Christian world, it still did not follow Rome’s custom of Sabbath fasting. Thus, we can see that Rome did not have quite the power over the Christian world at this time which some have claimed it had.

In the next article in this series, we will examine when this fasting practice was imposed on other believers.

CLICK HERE to read part 2 of this series! 

Kelly McDonald, Jr
BSA President;

Sabbath Keeping in the 300s-400s AD

Sabbath Keeping in the 300s-400s AD

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Among the predominant myths about the Sabbath is its practice ceased in early Church history. Interestingly enough, no primary sources in early Church History hint at this. There is actually very little discussion about the Sabbath in the first two centuries after the first Apostles.

As we arrive in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the Sabbath becomes a more common subject discussed in primary source documents. During these centuries, the Roman Church argued against Sabbath observance while most of the Christian world still honored it. The Roman Church advocated fasting on Sabbath as a way to denigrate it.

In the May-June edition of The Sabbath Sentinel, I discussed that a significant number of Christians during these centuries kept Sabbath in addition to Sunday. I also explained the events that lead to this development. Below, I have listed quotes from these two centuries which clarify that most Christians still honored the seventh-day Sabbath.

337 AD – Eusebius
Eusebius wrote the biography for the emperor Constantine in the late 330s AD. In it, he admitted that Constantine allowed people to have the Sabbath free from work. To learn more about Constantine’s Sabbath protections, CLICK HERE.  We have the quote below:

“The Blessed One urged all men also to do the same, as if by encouraging this he might gently bring all men to piety. He therefore decreed that all those under Roman government should rest on the days named after the Saviour, and similarly that they should honour the days of the Sabbath, in memory, I suppose, of the things recorded as done by the universal Saviour on those days” (Life of Constantine, 4.18.2; Stuart and Hall, p 159; emphasis mine).

363/364 AD – Council of Laodicea
Canon 16: On Sabbath [Saturday], the Gospels and other portions of the Scripture shall be read aloud. Canon 29: Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honour, and, as being Christians, shall if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.  (Quoted from: Hefele, pp 302-319)

This Roman Church Council was held at a time when Arians were a strong political and religious entity in the Eastern Roman Empire. Sabbath observance was condemned, but the Sabbath still retained some significance as the Scriptures were encouraged to be read on it. Despite its canons, the council did not change the strong Sabbath keeping tendencies of the times. To learn more about the Council of Laodicea, click here.

360s AD – Pseudo-Athanasius
“They met on the Sabbath, not that they were infected with Judaism, but to worship Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath…” (Homilia de Semente, quoted by Bingham, 1138).

360s AD – Epiphanius
He wrote that the Apostles set services for the fourth day of the week, the evening of Sabbath and the Lord’s Day (De fide, sec. 22, 24). It should be noted that no assemblies for teaching or exhortation were commanded by the Apostles for the fourth day and first day of the week. Epiphanius cites no Scriptures to support this view.

“On the apostles’ authority services are set for the fourth day of the week, the eve of the Sabbath, and the Lord’s Day…It continually enjoins prayers to God at the appointed night hours and after the close of the day, with all frequency, fervor, and bowing of the knee. In some places they also hold services on the Sabbaths, but not everywhere” (De Fide, 22.1, 24.6; Translated by Frank Williams, pp 679, 681).

In another work called Panarion, he provided a quote about a group called the Nazoreans. This was the original name given to the followers of Jesus. They still existed in his day; they also observed the Sabbath.
“For these people did not give themselves the name of Christ or Jesus’ own name, but that of  ‘Nazoraeans.’ But at that time all Christians alike were called Nazoraeans. They also came to be called ‘Jessaeans’ for a short while, before the disciples began to be called Christians at Antioch… They are different from Jews, and different from Christians, only in the following ways. They disagree with Jews because of their belief in Christ; but they are not in accord with Christians because they are still fettered by the Law—circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest” (Panarion, 29.1.2-3, 7.5-6, Translated by Frank Williams, pp 123, 128-129).

Late 300s AD
The Apostolic Constitutions was a series of books written to describe the practices of some Christians. The first several books were composed in the third century AD – you can read an example from it by clicking HERE. The seventh and eighth books were composed in the later part of the fourth century. We have some quotes from it below. The Sabbath was honored as a day of rest and sacred convocation. Fasting on the day was forbidden.

“O Lord Almighty You have created the world by Christ, and hast appointed the Sabbath in memory thereof, because that on that day You have made us rest from our works, for the meditation upon Your laws…On this account He permitted men every Sabbath to rest, that so no one might be willing to send one word out of his mouth in anger on the day of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is the ceasing of the creation, the completion of the world, the inquiry after laws, and the grateful praise to God for the blessings He has bestowed upon men” (idem, 7.36).

380-390s AD – John Chrysostom
There are many among us now, who fast on the same day as the Jews, and keep the Sabbaths in the same manner…” (Commentary on Galatians, 1:7).

405 AD – Letter from Augustine to Jerome
“For if we say that it is wrong to fast on the seventh day, we shall condemn not only the Church of Rome, but also many other churches, both neighbouring and more remote, in which the same custom continues to be observed. If, on the other hand, we pronounce it wrong not to fast on the seventh day, how great is our presumption in censuring so many churches in the East, and by far the greater part of the Christian world!” (Letter 82, sec. 14)

The greater part of the Christian world still considered the Sabbath a day of rest and enjoyment, whereas some of the Western Churches considered it a fast day.

Sozomen (late 300s-420s AD)
“Likewise some meet both upon the Sabbath and upon the day after the Sabbath, as at Constantinople, and among almost all others. At Rome and Alexandria they do not. Among the Egyptians, likewise, in many cities and villages, there is also a sacred custom among all of meeting on the evening of the Sabbath, when the sacred mysteries are partaken of” (Church History, 7.19).

Socrates Scholasticus (late 300s-430s AD)
“The Arians, as we have said, held their meetings without the city. As often therefore as the festal days occurred — I mean Saturday and Lord’s day—in each week, on which assemblies are usually held in the churches, they congregated within the city gates about the public squares…” (Church History, 6.8)

“For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this…” (ibid, 5.22)

Socrates recorded important details. First, nearly all churches honored the Sabbath. Secondly, Rome and Alexandria were the two cities that ceased to gather every Sabbath. He recorded that Rome and Alexandria ceased to honor the Sabbath; this means at one time they honored it. They stopped honoring it because of a tradition, not Scripture. Jesus warned us about the traditions of man that contradict the commandments of God (Matt. 15:1-20).

John Cassian (420-429 AD)

And throughout the whole of the East it has been settled, ever since the time of the preaching of the Apostles, when the Christian faith and religion was founded, that these Vigils should be celebrated as the Sabbath dawns… And so, after the exertion of the Vigil, a dispensation from fasting, appointed in like manner for the Sabbath by apostolic men, is not without reason enjoined in all the churches of the East… …” (Institutes, 3.9)

These primary sources indicate the obvious truth that Sabbath keeping was retained by the greatest portion of Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries. In the Eastern Churches, some degree of Sabbath keeping would remain the majority practice for hundreds of year into the future. In Western Europe, Sabbath keeping gradually became a minority practice among Christians. Look for more articles in the future on this exciting topic!


Kelly McDonald, Jr, BSA President