INTRODUCTION. We have investigated our Lord’s attitude towards the Mosaic Laws and found Him to be very forceful in requiring their continuance, and their observation. “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt.5:19)
A most definitive declaration from heaven was required before the 4th commandment could be changed. And throughout the N.T. there is no such declaration. The Roman Catholic authorities quoted in P.T.82 were completely correct in their assertion that no one can find such authority for a change.
According to Ron Wyatt the two tablets of stone are still within the Ark of the Covenant, awaiting the day when the whole world will be able to see them. The fourth commandment will therefore still be as it was – the SEVENTH DAY is the Sabbath Day.
There is no “Jewish Sabbath”, by which one may intimate the existence of other Sabbaths. There is but one Sabbath, Saturday, and it has applied to all men from the very foundation of the world. The Christian Sundays, and the Moslem Fridays, are commandments of men.
New Testament evidence advanced by Christian scholars to substantiate a change from Saturday to Sunday is purely circumstantial and wholly lacking the stamp of divine approval.
THE SABBATH KEPT IN ACTS. Throughout the Acts period the Apostles consistently observed the Saturday Sabbath, as may be seen by referring to 13:14,42,44, 16:13 17:2 and 18:4,11. By careful reading of these passages, it may be deduced that Paul was careful to observe the Sabbath on no less than EIGHTY OCCASIONS.
THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK IN ACTS. The first day is mentioned in Acts 20, and needs to be read carefully. The Christians “were gathered together to break bread on the first day of the week.” But the context shows that it wasevening. We keep a midnight-to-midnight day, but in the ancient world the Jews kept a 6 pm to 6 pm day. Saturday evening would have been termed “the first day of the week.” This was when they met for breaking of bread.
There was no such thing as a “two-day weekend” in those times. The Sabbath would have been observed according to theO.T.Law, as a day of rest and synagogue attendance. But the evening time, after 6 pm, was available for Christian worship, and this has led many into the error of thinking that they had Sunday off as well. Men worked a six day week in those days. Paul and his associates were travelling by land and sea on Sunday. It was a normal working day.
THE TITHE COLLECTION. In 1 Cor.16:2 Paul says, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.” This passage is often quoted to substantiate Sunday worship. But no mention is made of a meeting. Rather does Paul imply that business men should assess their previous week’s earnings, and lay aside something accordingly. Such activities could not be countenanced on the Sabbath.
WHEN DID SUNDAY WORSHIP START? From a scouring of extant literature of the first three centuries A.D., there seems to have been a gradual change taking place, but by no means uniform. There were assemblies that maintained Sabbath keeping, whilst others adopted Sunday. But even these tended to observe Saturday as well, at least for a time. So what caused the change? Was there a a single factor that dominated the issue? My own research has thrown up what I believe to be a single cause, and it doesn’t relate to the resurrection of Christ at all. This may come as a shock to some.
THE GROWTH OF ANTI-SEMITISM. I’ll give two quotations to illustrate the point. The first is Canon 29 of the Council of Laodicea which says, “That Christians must not play Jews by ceasing to work on the Sabbath, but that they work on that day and prefer the Lord’s day by ceasing work as Christians if they can.”
The second is a statement made by the Emperor Constantine, at about the same time. He said, “Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.”
These are but two expressions of growing anti-semitism amongst, not just Christians, but throughout the whole of the Roman world of those days. It affected the Sabbath Day. And it also affected all the other ancient festivals of the Israel calendar. Constantine wanted the whole lot scrapped, and where applicable, replaced by a Gentile formula.
Hence there arose a great controversy over the date of Passover. One half of the Church maintained the 14th Nisan, according to Levitical law, whilst the rest wanted what is now almost universally called “Good Friday.” (Nisan 14 cannot always fall on Friday in the Hebrew Calendar.)
LETTER OF POLYCRATES TO VICTOR. Polycrates wrote to Victor, Bishop of Rome, in the following way:- “We observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away.” And he went on to say that the Apostles Philip, John, Polycarp, andThraseas as well as many others, “all these observed the fourteenth day for the Passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith.” He concludes his letter by saying, “My relatives always observed the day when people put away the leaven. – – Those greater than me have said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.'”
EXCOMMUNICATION. Victor proceeded to excommunicate those Christians who practised the ancient rite of celebrating Passover on 14th Nisan. (This was in A.D.197) The dispute raged until early in the 4th century, when Constantine required all Christians in the empire to observe Good Friday. Now if I appear to have diverged from the Sabbath theme I have done so in order to illustrate the degree to which ancient Mosaic law was being replaced by Gentile observation. One is reminded of Jeroboam son of Nebat who strengthened his Kingdom in order to prevent people from deserting to Judah. He appointed non-Levite priests, and changed the feast day from the seventh to the eighth month. (See 1 Kings 12:25-33)
THE CAUSE OF ANTI-SEMITISM. Strangely enough the cause of this anti-semitism is found in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (2:14-16) “The Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last.” One has to appreciate the spiritual climate of those days, to understand how Gentile Christians could so easily fall prey to anti-semitism. The Jewish hierarchy was bitterly opposed to the rise of Christianity. It was also at odds with the Roman occupation. Hence believers began to cast off Jewish customs in favour of Gentile ones.
EUSEBIUS AND CONSTANTINE. Eusebius wrote a history of Constantine, in which he almost worshipped the emperor. But secular historians painted a more realistic picture. At one point in his life, at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine was said to have observed in a vision, a flaming cross in the heavens accompanied by the words IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (By this sign you shall conquer.) The battle went his way. The following year he was persuaded to adopt the Christian faith. But his Christian cloak was merely thrown over the existing polytheism of Rome.
THE NEW SUNDAY LAW. In A.D. 321 Constantine made a law which said, “Let all the judges and townspeople, and the occupation of all trades, rest on the venerable Day of the Sun.” As an ardent worshipper of Apollo, he required Christians to accommodate his Sunday for their worship. And Eusebius was ready to fall in line. He wrote, “All things whatsoever that it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s Day.” Notice the words WE HAVE TRANSFERRED. The Roman Church may like to take the credit for this change, but in point of fact it happened in Constantinople before it happened in Rome. Why, even in the early 200s A.D. Tertullian was saying, “Offerings for the dead, Sunday observance, and making the sign of the cross on the forehead, if for these and other such rules you insist on having Scripture injunction you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as their originator.”
END OF PART ONE
A PERSONAL WORD OF TESTIMONY. It was necessary to give a thumb-nail sketch of the historical background, both in the Acts period and up to Constantine’s reign. Some, like myself, are researchers at heart, and always want to “get to the bottom of things.” But I believe there is another side to this question, and it is one which I would not have contemplated when I wrote about the FESTIVALS in November 1989 (P.T.26) That article was very hard-hitting, and these days I more or less “disown” it. The Lord has been digging a softer image into my heart, for which I shall be eternally grateful.
In December 1987 I wrote a Telegraph entitled “THE RETURN OF THE SABBATH” [This was PT 19, which is no longer available] in which I spoke of the Lord’s word to my wife to study the Sabbath in both Testaments, and how she found no evidence of a change to Sunday, and how from that time forwards we started keeping a Saturday Sabbath. It was a new beginning for us, and at the start it felt very strange until we became accustomed to it.
A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES. Paul said to the Romans (2:14-15) “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves. They show the law’s requirements written on their hearts.” I now believe that all those who keep a Sunday rest-day (I dare not call it Sabbath, because only Saturday can be called that) because they have traditionally accepted that day, and seek to obey the Lord’s injunctions for that day, will be “a law unto themselves.” They are keeping the law in their hearts, even if it is not according to strict Mosaic legislation. The heart that desires to be right with God is far more acceptable than the legaliser who insists on strict application but with coldness of heart.
THE NEED FOR A CHOICE. But having said that, I realise that whenever a believer is advised of a “more perfect way”, as was Apollos by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26) a cross-roads of life is reached, and a decision has to be made. Looking back I can now see that the Lord was well within His own 4th commandment when (very strangely to us at the time,) He asked us to do a job of work on a Sunday; but when He cautioned me about buying a Sunday newspaper, He was commenting on the fact that I was breaking MY OWN UNDERSTANDING of the law at that time. How great is God’s mercy and patience. I am perfectly content to know that each one who reads this paper will be able to reach his or her ownconclusion as to what they should do about the Sabbath Day.
A dear sister in the Lord phoned to say that she was convinced of the true Sabbath in her heart, but in practice it was quite impossible to carry it out in her present circumstances. She had the Lord’s assurance that He knew and understood. In His sight she was keeping Sabbath. I am glad to be able to mention this. It shows how the SPIRIT of the Law is more important than the LETTER of the Law.
THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM. One last point. It is our understanding that the Sabbath Day is a type of God’s coming Kingly Reign of 1,000 years. And no matter what form of chronology one adopts, the Bible gives every reason to believe that we have now covered nearly 6,000 years of history. And this means that we are living in the early dawn of God’s 7th thousand years. My wife and I would like to say that one of the main reasons why we like keeping a Saturday Sabbath, (and our circumstances allow us to) is to show the Lord how greatly we desire His Kingdom to come, and His will to be done on this earth as it is in heaven. “When Thy judgments are in the earth, O Lord, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:9)