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 www.biblesabbath.org

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 – www.biblesabbath.org



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 (www.biblesabbath.org)

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, 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.We may look at this more in a future article.

Kelly McDonald, Jr; BSA President; www.biblesabbath.org

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.

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., Sec. 42, from Bingham, 1139). He had strong influence in the city of Rome and beyond from 144 to about 155. Eventually, he was condemned as a heretic even by the Roman Church.

Tertullian – 206

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; in this way, he imitated the Roman Church).

“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, bk 4, ch 12).

Callixtus – 218-220

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 (Liber Pontificalis, p 20). Hippolytus was a bishop who broke off from the Roman Church. Among his qualms with the practices of his day was fasting on the Sabbath. In the early third century, he 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).

Victorinus – 250-303

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 Roman Christianity) be extended or ‘superpositioned’ 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. Page 1825; Latin was taken from: J.P. Migne, PL:5, 306)

Council of Elvira – 300-306

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, vol 1, page 145-147).

Sylvester – 314-335

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

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, sec 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.

We will continue this article next time!

Kelly McDonald, Jr; BSA President; www.biblesabbath.org

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.

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.

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.

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” (Book 7, sec. 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, bk 7, ch 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, bk 6, ch 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, bk 5, ch 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


Did Constantine Change the Sabbath?

Did Constantine Change the Sabbath?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Among the more commonly held beliefs in the Sabbath community is that the Roman Emperor Constantine changed the Sabbath or passed laws prohibiting its observance. Those who hold this view typically claim that it occurred at the Council of Nicea in 325 or as a law passed in 321 AD.
Before we delve into this subject, it is important to understand how proper research is done.

When we undertake a scholarly review of a subject, it is best to start with the primary source material available to us. A primary source is a person or object that records historical facts about the time period being examined. If someone just writes a book or article and claims “Constantine changed the Sabbath” then that claim is only valid if it is supported by primary source evidence. Otherwise, hearsay becomes the basis for fact and no objective truth can be established.

From primary sources, we are able to draw a degree of certainty about events that happened in a specific time period. The more primary sources we have, the greater degree of certainty that can be achieved. When it comes to Constantine and the Sabbath, the primary sources are broken down into three categories: 1) the laws of the time period, 2) preserved writings about the council of Nicea, and 3) contemporary writers who recorded Constantine’s reign.

The primary sources regarding laws passed during the reign of Constantine are chiefly contained in two annals of Roman Law. The first is called the Codex Theodosianus, and it was issued by Theodosius II in 438. The second is the Codex Justinianus, which was issued by Justinian in the 530s. These codices are compilations of Roman laws categorized by subject matter. English versions of them are available (I have access to both). Among the laws issued by Constantine, none prohibit the Sabbath.

The Council of Nicea is the second primary source usually cited in regards to this subject. To view the proceedings of this council in Latin (with some notes in Greek), one must view volume 2 of Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collection edited by Joannes Dominicus Mansi in 1759. It is listed under the title “Sanctum Concilium Nicaenum Primum Generale” starting on page 635. To review details from this council in English, read A history of the Christian Councils from the Original Documents by Charles Joseph Hefele, translated into English by William R Clark, second edition from 1883. The historical background starts on page 231, but the canons (with commentary) are found on pages 375-435. Not a single canon from Nicea referenced the Sabbath.

A third source for Constantine’s reign are the historians who lived in his time period. The historian Eusebius wrote a brief history about Constantine’s life and reign called “The Life of Constantine”. Another man named Lactantius, who was the personal tutor for Constantine’s son Crispus, also recorded some events. Neither primary sources alludes to Constantine banning or curbing Sabbath observance. New evidence from Eusebius’ writings now show that Constantine protected Sabbath observance (see the link at the bottom of this article).

Setting the Record Straight

Let’s set the record straight. Firstly, no one can change the Sabbath. Think about that assertion for a moment. The Sabbath has been and ALWAYS will be Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. No one can change that eternal truth. Secondly, primary sources from the time period indicate that Constantine did not attempt to ban or forbid Sabbath observance. New evidence shows that he protected it! How did confusion arise concerning this subject? There’s misunderstanding about it because Constantine took actions that indirectly affected the Sabbath. Let’s explore this further.

On March 7 321 AD, he approved the “day of the sun” as a rest day for the empire. Translated into English, the first part of this law reads: “All judges, city dwellers, skill workers, and the offices of all should honor the venerable day of the sun and rest. However, those placed in the country freely serve the fields of culture…” (CJ.3.12.2: Imperator Constantinus).

In the Latin manuscript, the phrase translated as “venerable day of the sun” is venerabilis dies solis. Constantine’s decree was based upon his admiration for the celestial body we call the sun. This law appears to only apply to those in urban areas. People in the country were not bound by it. Notice that no worship is mentioned in the law. The decree did not mention God or Jesus Christ. In fact, the day after this Sun-day law, he enacted a law which allowed pagan soothsayers to enter buildings where lightning had struck (CT: 16.10.1). This decree upheld the ancient Roman custom.

On July 3 of the same year, he issued a second law which freed slaves from labor on Sunday and suspended certain legal proceedings. The language is reminiscent of protections granted to other ancient pagan celebrations. Sometime after these Sun-day laws, he ruled that the marketplaces were to be open when the special Roman market days (called nundinae) occurred on Sundays (Dessau, no. 704). Not even the new Sun-day festival was higher than the ancient nundinae tradition.

Many people are not aware that Constantine called for the Council of Nicea to be held. He oversaw its proceedings. During it he pronounced that Christians should not keep Passover like the Jewish people. Instead, he conveyed that people should follow the custom of the Roman Church, who celebrated Passover on Sunday (Euseb. Life of Constantine, 3:17-18, Socrates, Church History, 1:9; Theodoret, Church History, 1:9). The Roman Church used this yearly gathering on Sunday as the reasoning to push Sunday gatherings every week. Despite this decree, significant numbers of Christians still honored Passover in the Biblically prescribed way (see John Chrysostom’s work Eight Homilies Against the Jews). Moreover, Arians had their books burned at Nicea. This was likely the first time a temporal ruler punished someone for a differing belief in the Bible. This dangerous precedent would influence temporal rulers in later centuries.

Lastly, the historian Eusebius wrote that Constantine required all his troops to pray on Sunday (which he called the ‘Lord’s Day’ – Life of Const, bk 4:18-19). We have no corroborating evidence to verify this claim by the writer. Constantine continued to honor others gods decades into his reign and he was not baptized until just before his death. Moreover, Eusebius was an ardent opponent of the Sabbath (Odom, Sabbath and Sunday in Early Christianity, 292). When put together, these details make it difficult to conclude that Constantine would force anyone to pray to one God on Sunday.

Constantine’s two Sun-day laws created a government-mandated imitation day of rest beside the true Sabbath, which was still being observed. Thus, an entire generation of Christians (in urban areas) grew up honoring the seventh-day Sabbath because of the Bible but also resting on Sunday because it was civil law. In other words, people were socialized to rest on Sunday.

Another important development during his reign was the interweaving of the Roman Empire with the Roman Catholic Church. These events opened the door for more stringent Sunday laws with supposed Christian significance starting with the reign of Theodosius I from 379 to 395 (Click here to read more about this). Despite these influences, most Christians continued to honor the True Sabbath into the 400s AD (Click here to read primary sources on this subject).

We can safely conclude that Constantine did not change the Sabbath or attempt to ban or curb its observance. Some of his decrees and political activity indirectly impacted the Sabbath over a long period of time. He laid the foundation for later Roman Sunday laws supported by the Roman Church.  As the Roman Church became more influential in the political realm, they persuaded temporal authorities to war against those who would not conform (especially in the Middle Ages). Thus, Constantine influenced the Sabbath indirectly in ways that developed over centuries and in some ways has lasted down to our modern times.

UPDATE: 4-28-2020 – New Evidence shows that Constantine protected Sabbath observance – Click here to read this article. 

Kelly McDonald, Jr – BSA President, www.biblesabbath.org

Seven Factors that Influenced the Sabbath in the Early Church (Part 4 of 4)

Seven Factors that Influenced the Sabbath in the Early Church (Part 4 of 4)

by Kelly McDonald, Jr.

The last factor that influenced the Sabbath was the relationship between Roman Emperors and Roman Bishops. Beginning with the time of Constantine, the Roman Church became intertwined with the Roman Empire. Constantine de facto made the Roman Church an institution of the state. Roman Emperors starting with Constantine codified Roman Church practices as law and even tried to influence them.

In 321 AD, Constantine  ruled that people could leave property to the Roman Church upon death (CT: 16.2.4). In 326 AD, he passed a law that granted the Roman Church special privileges. All other Christian groups were not allowed these privileges and were bound to public service (CT: 16.5.1). He regulated the number of clergy in Christianity (CT: 16.2.6 [326 AD]). Secular judges were even required to enforce the decisions of Christian Bishops (CS: 1 [333 AD]).

In 379, Theodosius became the Eastern Roman Emperor. After hearing the perspectives of different Christian groups, he sided with the Roman Church. All houses of prayer were given over to the Roman Church. The next year he passed a law, which forced all peoples under his rule to follow the Roman Catholic religion. We have an excerpt from this decree below:

“To the residents of Constantinople: It is our will that all the peoples whom the government of our clemency rules shall follow that religion which a pious belief from Peter to the present declares the holy Peter delivered to the Romans, and which it is evident the Pontiff Damascus and Peter, bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity, follow; that is, that according to the apostolic discipline and evangelical doctrine we believe in the deity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit of equal majesty in a holy trinity. Those who follow this law we command shall be comprised under the name of Catholic Christians; but others, indeed, we require, as insane and raving, to bear the infamy of heretical teaching; their gatherings shall not receive the name of churches; they are to be smitten first with the divine punishment and after that by the vengeance of our indignation, which has divine approval” (CT: 16.1.2).

His laws relating to religion were sometimes fanatical. People were not even allowed to discuss religious matters in public (CT: 16.4.1 [388 AD]). Non-Roman Catholic groups were forbidden from owning churches or meeting together to have services.

The Imperial relationship with the Roman Church would pave the way for celebrations of the Roman Church, including Sunday, to be enshrined as enforced law. The first Sunday law in history with any mention of the Lord was issued in 386 AD by Theodosius (CT: 2.8.18).

From 386 to 469, there were seven laws enacted that specifically regulated some aspect of Sunday rest or worship. Sunday became cemented as the day of rest in the Roman Empire. This would last for centuries into the future and even transfer to other European monarchies that used Roman law (such as the Frankish people under Charlemagne).

How did this last factor effect the Sabbath? The institution of Sunday as a government-mandated day of rest set up a false Sabbath beside the true one. People began to view Sunday as legitimized due to civil law. “If its good enough for everyone else, then its good enough for me.” This popularized Sun-day in a way not experienced before this time.

The bottom line: these laws distracted people from God’s agenda – for humans to rest on the seventh day of the week. Other Roman Catholic Celebrations such as the nativity of Jesus (later called Christmas) also became popularized (for Christmas, see: CT 15.5.5 [425 AD]) became established law.

In conclusion, the Sabbath was attacked and slandered for centuries through these seven factors: 1) Persecution of Christians, 2) Destruction of Jerusalem (twice), 3) Quartodeciman Controversy, 4) Anti-Semitism, 5) Syncretism, 6) Allegorizing Scripture, 7) The relationship between the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church.

As you ponder these details, consider that some of these same factors are used in arguments today to denigrate the seventh-day Sabbath. But now you know their origin. We will give some examples.

Example #1 – The Quartodeciman Controversy still affects the Sabbath. People often use the argument that the resurrection occurred on Sunday morning to justify changing the Sabbath to Sunday. This argument was never used by the first Apostles. It wasn’t used by anyone until over 100 years after Christ was on earth.

Example #2 – Anti-Semitism still influences people’s view of the Sabbath. When you mention the seventh-day Sabbath, many will say “That’s just for the Jews”; “You mean the Jewish Sabbath?”; or “We do not live like Jewish people”. Yet not a single time in the Bible is the Sabbath ever called Jewish; it is called the Sabbath of the Lord our God (see Exodus 20:8-11 as an example). Jesus said the Sabbath was for man, not Jews. People who use these arguments may not be anti-Semitic; but they are using an anti-Semitic argument.

Example #3 – Allegorizing the Scriptures. Some today still allegorize when discussing the Sabbath. For instance, some people say “Jesus is my Sabbath” or “Rest is not a day, it is salvation in Christ” – yet none of these arguments are found in the Bible.

Consider this!

Despite these seven factors, most Christians still honored the Sabbath into the 400s AD. This completely negates the argument that the Sabbath was changed by the early Church!

We will look at one writer who lived in the late 300s/early 400s AD. His name is Socrates Scholasticus; He wrote a tremendous work on Christian history.

“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. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebais, hold their religious assemblies on the Sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings…” (ibid, bk 5, ch 22)

Pay close attention to the words of this historian. He recorded that Rome and Alexandria were the two cities that ceased to honor the Sabbath; this means at one time they did it! He also noted that they did not stop honoring the Sabbath because of any scripture, but because of a tradition. Jesus warned us about the traditions of man that contradict the commandments of God (Matthew 15:1-20).

Despite these seven factors, most Christians continued to honor the Sabbath. If you missed the first three parts of this series, I have included them below:

Click here for part 1

Click here for part 2

Click here for part 3

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

Seven Factors that Influenced the Sabbath in the Early Church (Part 3 of 4)

Seven Factors that Influenced the Sabbath in the Early Church (Part 3 of 4)

by Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In the midst of the previous four factors, a fifth significant development occurred: syncretism. Syncretism is the mixing of other religious practices with the pure practice of the Holy Bible.

As some early Christians sought to avoid practices that appeared Jewish and even avoid persecution, they embraced practices from other religions. The quote from Pliny the Younger in part 1 of this series confirmed the beginning of this trend. (CLICK HERE to read part 1 of this series.)

The veneration of the Sun and Sun-day were among the practices borrowed from other religions. The practice of praying towards the sun as it rose and set increased in popularity from the late second century onward. Sun-day was also adopted. Platonism, gnosticism, and other philosophies were melded with Christianity and formed the basis for these strange practices.

One of the writers of this period was Clement of Alexandria (180s AD). Among his other questionable statements, he believed that we should pray with our faces towards the east to face the rising sun (ibid, 7:7). Lastly, he believed that the sun was created as an object of worship. “And he gave the sun, and the moon, and the stars to be worshipped…” (ibid, 6:14).

He was an avowed gnostic and claimed that the true gnostic does not honor specific days (ibid, 6:15, 7:7). He proposed that philosophy was given to the Greeks to guide them towards righteousness (ibid, 1:5).

In his writings, we find the first legitimate reference to Sunday being called the Lord’s Day, which does not have scriptural evidence. His justification for this view comes from Plato and the number eight (Stromata, 5, 14). Plato was a heathen philosopher. Why would anyone use his writings to justify any Christian practice?

As the Old Testament was being devalued as the background source to the New Testament, these Gnostic writers found other sources that they could use as a derivative of Christian practice. Philosophy was one belief system syncretized with the New Testament to fill this void. An attraction to the sun, which was popular in the Roman Empire, was part of this trend.

Tertullian lived in Carthage in the late 190s/early 200s AD. He was an avowed enemy of Marcionites, but he still advocated Sunday.  We have some of his quotes below.

“Others with a greater show of reason take us for worshippers of the sun… This suspicion took its rise from hence, because it was observed that Christians prayed with their faces towards the east [towards the sun] but if we, like them[the pagans], celebrate Sunday as a festival and day of rejoicing, it is for a reason vastly distant from that of worshipping the sun; for we solemnize the day after Saturday in contradistinction to those who call this day their Sabbath, and devote it to ease and eating, deviating from the old Jewish customs, which they are now very ignorant of” (Apology, Chapter 16; emphasis mine throughout).

Tertullian admitted that the Sunday celebration was conducted “like them” – meaning like the pagans. He also acknowledged that there were Christians that still called Saturday the Sabbath.

“Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east or because we make Sunday a day of festivity. What then? Do you do less than this?…It is you [the pagans], at all events, who have even admitted the sun into the calendar of the week; and you have selected its day, in preference to the preceding day…For the Jewish feasts are the Sabbath and “the Purification”…all which institutions and practices are of course foreign from your [pagan] gods” (Against the Nations, 1:13).

In his work, Against the Nations (also called To the Nations), Tertullian addressed pagan worshipers. Once again, he admitted that some Christians made Sunday a festivity in the same way as the pagans. He then confessed that the practices of the Sabbath and festivals by the Jewish people are foreign to other gods. They are holy celebrations not shared by other religions. He had to defend the syncretism he practiced.

Tertullian was the first person (to my knowledge) who defended Christianity against accusations of sun worship. In the New Testament, Christians never had to shield themselves against such allegations. Syncretism caused this to change –the outside world was confused by the Sunday festivity.

Tertullian also confessed that Sunday worship was a tradition with no Scriptural authority. This is consistent with modern Catholic writers such as Cardinal James Gibbons and John Laux. CLICK HERE to read their quotes. 

“We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful…. If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them” (De Corona, chapters 3 and 4).

As we read these primary source accounts, syncretism had a huge impact on the early Church. Some wanted to retain pagan practices, such as adoration of the sun and its rising, but still hold Christian principles. We are instructed in the Bible not to pray to the sun or adore its rising (see Deut. 4:19, Ezekiel 8:14-17). Also, the phrase “Lord’s Day” became gradually attached to the first day of the week.

This influenced the Sabbath in that an alternative day, without Scriptural support, found its way into the Christian community. This was yet another attempt to divert people from observance of the one and only True Sabbath.

The next factor that influenced the Sabbath was the allegorizing of Scripture. You may not be familiar with this concept, but allegorizing is a unique method of interpreting the Bible. It does not fully consider the literal meaning of verses. Instead, numbers and details in the Bible are treated as symbols. They are then reapplied in a way that is subjective to the interpreter. As a result, those who use this method usually come to conclusions that negate the literal meaning of the Bible.

Among the first writers to allegorize the Bible was Justin the Martyr. We discussed him in part 2 of this series (CLICK HERE TO read part 2). He especially used allegory as it related to the Sabbath and the resurrection. We have two excerpts below:

“For righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the deluge, i.e., with his own wife, his three sons and their wives, being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose from the dead, forever the first in power” (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 138).

“The Lord our God does not take pleasure in such observances: if there is any perjured person or a thief among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true Sabbaths of God…” (ibid, chapter 12).

In the first quote, he allegorized the number eight from the story of Noah and used this number as a reason to transfer the Sabbath to the first day of the week (which he calls the eighth day of the week). In another chapter of the same work, he does the same thing with circumcision (see chapter 41).

His allegorical attack on the Sabbath has obvious problems with the literal meaning of the Scriptures. First, God never described the week as having eight days. Secondly, Jesus did not resurrect on Sunday. Third, no Bible writer ever connected circumcision or Noah to the Sabbath.

In the second quote above, Justin portrayed a sinless life as the true way to honor the Sabbath. Again, this is a problematic interpretation. The Sabbath is the weekly day of rest – keeping other commandments cannot replace its absolute requirements. If someone abstains from stealing, then they have done well and honored that specific commandment. However, if the same person works on Sabbath then he/she has violated the fourth commandment. If we use Justin’s logic, we could justify breaking any commandment we want.

Two other authors that contributed greatly to allegorizing the Scriptures were Clement of Alexandria and his pupil Origen. We mentioned Clement earlier in this article as a proponent of syncretism. He studied at the Alexandrian school of theology, which taught the allegorical method. At times, he and Origen decried honoring any specific day as special.

“Whence not in a specified place, or selected temple, or at certain festivals and on appointed days, but during his whole life, the Gnostic in every place, even if he be alone by himself, and wherever he has any of those who have exercised the like faith, honours God, that is, acknowledges his gratitude for the knowledge of the way to live” (Clement, Stromata, 7, 7).

“If it be objected to us on this subject that we ourselves are accustomed to observe certain days, as for example the Lord’s day, the Preparation, the Passover, or Pentecost, I have to answer, that to the perfect Christian, who is ever in his thoughts, words, and deeds serving his natural Lord, God the Word, all his days are the Lord’s, and he is always keeping the Lord’s day. He also who is unceasingly preparing himself for the true life, and abstaining from the pleasures of this life which lead astray so many — who is not indulging the lust of the flesh, but keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection,— such a one is always keeping Preparation-day” (Origen, Against Celsus, 8:22)

Origen allegorized away any day with special significance and ranked them all the same. He thus contradicted the example of Christ and the early Apostles, who clearly made distinctions between days that were holy and those that were not.

Allegorizing Scriptures would contribute to misunderstanding the Sabbath for centuries to come. A substantial number of Christians were influenced by the Alexandrian school of Theology. This form of interpreting the Scriptures has existed in some form down to the present. People use similar explanations of the bible toda

We will finish this series next week!

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org