Exactly when the first Christians stopped observing God’s seventh day Sabbath as a Holy day is uncertain, but as we have previously stated, we believe it occurred sometime after the beginning of the second century AD- that is, sometime after the year 100.
By this time, all of the original apostles, those who had walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry, had died, and other men had emerged as leaders within the Christian movement. Also by this time all the writings which now make up the Bible’s NT had been completed, although he NT as we know it had not yet been canonized.
In this segment we will begin exploring circumstances and reasons that first prompted some within the Christian movement to abandon the seventh day Sabbath and replace it with Sunday, the first day of the week, which became known as “the Lord’s Day.”
There is much information to consider as we move forward in our examination, but let us begin by simply asserting, or re-asserting our belief that the change in the day of worship adopted by many Christians, and legislated as official church doctrine centuries ago, was ordained by men, not by God.
For much of our information, we will need to turn to historical events and documents outside of the Bible itself, which contains no evidence that such a change was ever intended. It bears repeating here that Jesus himself honored the seventh day Sabbath during his earthly life and ministry, as did his apostles, including his later apostle, Paul, who famously became the “apostle to the Gentiles.”
Throughout the NT, neither Jesus nor any of his apostles ever suggested or promoted abandoning God’s seventh day Sabbath and substituting Sunday in its place.
So what happened? How did the change come about?
The first circumstance we’ll examine which in all probability influenced the eventual abandonment of God’s seventh day Sabbath can be understood from the NT itself.
As noted, in the NT book The Acts of the Apostles and in most, if not all of the Apostle Paul’s NT letters, there was a tension between Jewish converts to Christianity and Gentile converts. And this tension was enveloped within a still broader tension, between Jews who had opposed and rejected Jesus and anyone – Jew or Gentile – who had accepted Jesus but who continued to worship in the Jewish synagogues.
The simple truth was that non-Christian Jews did not want Christians in their synagogues anymore.
Because of this, around 95 or 100 A.D., a change was made in the synagogue service. The middle part of the service was known as the standing prayer, the Amida, which consisted of eighteen short prayers or blessings of God, Thanksgiving Blessings. But at this time, an additional one was added:
“May the apostates have no hope. May the dominion of wickedness be speedily uprooted in our days. May the Nazarenes and the heretics quickly perish and not be inscribed together with the righteous. Blessed art Thou, the eternal, our God, who crushes the wicked.” (1)
As you can see, this prayer – clearly directed against Christians, who were also known as Nazarene’s – created a problem for them because everyone in the assembly was supposed to say “Amen” at the end of each prayer. So it became very uncomfortable, in fact impossible, for Christians to participate in the Pharisee-led synagogue service from that time onward. (2)
Where did they go? Often they would simply gather in their various homes. But they did not abandon the Sabbath. They continued to honor and observe God’s holy day of rest.
The evidence of this synagogue prayer helps sharpen our picture of first-century Christians. It seems clear that they were keeping the Sabbath right along with their Jewish brothers. But the Jewish leadership was intolerant towards Christians; and Christians themselves were beginning to question the value of their connection to Judaism, particularly in light of increasingly strong anti-Jewish sentiment throughout the Roman Empire.
This anti-Jewish sentiment accelerated each time Jewish zealots violently rebelled against the Empire. The Roman historian Dio Cassius, in his book Roman History, described one such rebellion, which occurred in North Africa in the year 114 A.D.:
“The Jews in the region of Cyrene had put a certain Andreas at their head, and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks… . Many they sawed in two, from the head downwards; others they gave to the wild beasts, and still others they forced to fight as gladiators. In all two hundred and twenty thousand persons perished. In Egypt, too, they perpetrated many similar outrages, and in Cypress…” (3)
A few years later, in 132 A.D., Jewish opposition to imperial authority exploded into another violent revolt – the Bar Kochba uprising – this time in Jerusalem.
Historians attribute two reasons for the Bar Kochba uprising. First, the prohibition by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, against circumcision. Second, the decision by Haddrian to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city, the city of Aelia Capitolina. (4)
Imperial forces finally crushed the rebellion in 135 A.D. Thereafter, Emperor Hadrian banned all Jews from Jerusalem and prohibited Sabbath keeping and other Jewish rites of religion. (5)
Within the context of the times, it is easy to see why some Christians and their leaders may have found it desirable and perhaps expedient to disassociate themselves from the Jews by renouncing the Sabbath, which was a primary mark of Jewishness.
Tension unfortunately also existed within the Christian movement itself.
The carrying of the gospel, or “good news,” to the Gentiles was what might be described as a watershed moment in Christianity. Gentiles, or non-Jews, very often were without a full understanding of Judaism. In addition, Gentiles commonly had adopted pagan practices that were pervasive among the plurality of cultures and ethnicities encompassed within the Empire.
Some Jewish converts to Christianity insisted that Gentile converts conform to the many long-established regulations contained in their compilation of laws, known as the Law of Moses.
These strict traditionalists, often referred to in NT writings as “Judaizers,” adamantly insisted that all male Gentile converts be circumcised and that Jewish and Gentile converts alike adhere to the Mosaic Law.
The Apostle Paul, however, refuted the demands of the Judaizers. Paul profoundly stated in one of his NT letters that God had “canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14)
This brings us to a pivotal point in our discussion of how and why God’s seventh day Sabbath was abandoned.
Was the Sabbath merely a part of the written code that Paul referred to in his letter? If so, had it been abolished? If not, then what was Paul referring to?
Click into our next segment to continue.
(1) The Seventh Day. Revelations from the Lost Pages of History. LLT Productions, 2004. Transcript. Part 2. Chapter 6.
(3) The Seventh Day. Revelations from the Lost Pages of History. LLT Productions, 2004. Dio Cassius, Roman History 68 <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/68*.html [Accessed March 24, 2005]; see also Eusebius Pamphilus, “The Church History f Eusebius, Book IV, Chapter II”, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. I. <http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-01/Npnf2-01-09.htm#P2227_1055358> [Accessed March 24, 2005]
(4) The Seventh Day. Revelations from the Lost Pages of HIstory. LLT Productions, 2004. Transcript. Part 2. Chapter 6.
(5) The Seventh Day. Revelations from the Lost Pages of History. LLT Productions, 2004. “The Bar-Kokhba Revolt.” Jewish Virtual Library from The Amirican-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. http://www.jesishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/revolt1.html [Accessed March 28, 2005].