"How Came it into the Christian Church?" page One

By F. L. Sharp



This is a question that has exercised the minds of many sincere and earnest Christians. Those who have made the most critical examination of the New Testament Scriptures have been unable to trace any evidence that the day of worship was ever changed either by Christ or His apostles. And while it is constantly affirmed that the early Christian church changed the day in commemoration of Christ's resurrection, there is no evidence of this forthcoming. Every writer in the New Testament is as silent as the tomb concerning any such change having been made. Yet Christendom is found observing the first day of the week notwithstanding the absence of any divine warrant for so doing.


Were it true that the early Christian church had made the change, such an act on their part would not only have been altogether illegal, but more, it would have been purely and simply a usurpation of divine authority, an assumption of a prerogative that belongs to God alone, for the Apostle James declares that "there is one lawgiver" (James 4:12), while the prophet Isaiah says that "the Lord is our lawgiver" or "statute maker." Isaiah 33:22.


But now, as no divine law for the observance of the first day of the week is to be found in the Scriptures, the question arises how came it into the Christian church? There being an entire absence of authority in the Scriptures, we must look elsewhere for information concerning it. History alone can enlighten us. We first turn to Neander, "the prince of church historians," who informs us that "The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance, and it was far from the intentions of the Apostles to establish a divine command in this respect, and far from the early apostolic church to transfer the laws of the Sabbath to Sunday." — "Church History," Rose's translation, page 186.


Here then is a candid admission that, while there was an ordinance for the observance of Sunday, it was not of divine but of human origin.


In another work entitled, "The First Century of Christianity," pages 326, 327, the author, Homersham Cox, M.A., remarks: "It has been sometimes suggested that at the commencement of the Christian dispensation there must have been some divine precept changing the day of the Sabbath, that either Christ or the apostles changed the day. But where is the evidence of this? There is not an iota of such evidence in the New Testament, and there is cogent evidence to the contrary. Those who maintain the theory that the obligation of the Sabbath was transferred to the first day of the week cannot tell us by whose authority and at what time or in what manner the transfer was made. Besides, is it credible that if the command to change the day of the Sabbath had been given either by Christ or His apostles, we should not find some reference to it in the pages of the earliest Christian writers? We do not find in their writings the faintest allusion to such a command having been given."


In confirmation of this, and too, that this writer might not be considered singular in his conclusions, we will add what some other historians and writers have to say on this point.


Sir William Domville Church of England, in his "Examination if the Six Texts," supplement, pages 6, 7, says: "Not any ecclesiastical writer of the first three centuries attributed the origin of Sunday observance either to Christ or to His apostles." He also says: "Centuries of the Christian era passed away before Sunday was observed by the Christian church as a Sabbath. History does not furnish us with a single proof or indication that it was at any time so observed previous to the Sabbatical edict of Constantine in A.D. 321." — Ib., page 291.


Dr. Cox: "The early Fathers gave no support, direct or indirect, to the notion that the Sabbath had been transferred at all; but it is not surprising that those who wrote after the enactment by Constantine that Sunday should be kept as a Sabbath, were more apt to discover reasons for such an observance of it." — "Literature," Vol. 1, page 257, note.


Chambers Encyclopedia (Art. "Sabbath"): "By none of the Fathers before the fourth century is it [Sunday] identified with the Sabbath, nor is the duty of observing it grounded by them, either in the fourth commandment, or on the precept of Christ or His apostles."


Dr. Coleman: "Down even to the fifth century the observance of the Jewish Sabbath was continued in the early Christian church, but with a rigour and solemnity gradually diminishing until it was wholly discontinued." In speaking of the first day, he says: "During the early ages of the church it [the Sunday] was never entitled 'the Sabbath,' this word being confined to the seventh day of the week, the Jewish Sabbath, which as we have already said, continued to be observed for several centuries by the converts to Christianity." "Ancient Christianity," chap. 26, sec. 2.


Antiquities of the Christian church: "The ancient Christians were very careful in the observance of Saturday, or the seventh day, which was the ancient Jewish Sabbath. Some observed it as a fast, others as a festival; but all unanimously agreed in keeping it as a more solemn day of religious worship and adoration. . . . Athanasius likewise tells us that they held religious assemblies on the Sabbath, not because they were infected with Judaism, but to worship Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. Epiphanius says the same." — Vol. VII, chap. 3 sec. 1, pages 52, 53.


Thus we learn from these historians and writers that for several centuries after Christ, the early Christian not only did not observe the first day of the week (Sunday) as the Christian Sabbath, but that they did observe the Sabbath of the fourth commandment — the seventh day of the week.


Sunday a Work Day

That some religious exercises were held by the Christians on the first day of the week, none will deny. The records are equally clear concerning this. But they are also equally clear that there was no cessation of ordinary labour on that day, thus evincing the fact that the early Christians did not regard the first day as being anything else but a working day.


Quoting again from "The First Century of Christianity": Homesham Cox further states that "having thoroughly examined" "the principle passages from writings of the first and second centuries which relate to the Sabbath and the Lord's day," and "after a most careful and laborious search, it is asserted with confidence that there is not one writer of the first or second century who suggests that Christians of their times regarded the Lord's day as a substitute for the Sabbath. Neither is there any evidence whatsoever in those early writings that Christians abstained from their usual labours on Sunday, except so far as was necessary for the purpose of attending their assemblies. The earliest suggestion that Christians should abstain from labour on Sunday is contained in a passage of Tertullian, written not before the close of the second century. . . . But this advice to defer matters of business is limited to the time of prayer, not the whole of the Lord's day. Up to the time when Tertullian wrote, that is for more than a century after the last surviving apostle left the earth, there is not the slightest trace of a practice of abstaining from ordinary pursuits on the Lord's day, excepting during the time devoted to Christian assemblies." (Page 324.) And again he says., "From the commencement if the apostolic era, Christians were accustomed to assemble for worship on the first day of the week but they did not regard that day as a Sabbath." — Page 316."IT WAS CONSTANTINE THE GREAT WHO FIRST MADE A LAW FOR THE OBSERVANCE OF SUNDAY?"

(Continued on page two)