Did Constantine and the Pope Change the Sabbath?

The disciples of Moses teach that the sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday by Constantine, 321 A.D., and by the Catholic Church, 364 A.D. The following facts from history prove that they are historically wrong:

1. The Encyclopedia Britannica under “Sabbath” and “Sunday” says, “In the early Christian Church JEWISH CHRISTIANS continued to keep the sabbath, like other points of the law…. On the other hand, Paul from the first days of GENTILE CHRISTIANITY, laid it down definitely that the Jewish sabbath was not binding on Christians. Controversy with Judaizers led in process of time to direct condemnation of those who still kept the Jewish day…. In 321 A.D. Constantine made the Christian sabbath, Sunday, the rest day for the Roman Empire, but it was observed by Christians for nearly 300 years before it became a law by Constantine.”

This encyclopedia gives a number of dates from Constantine to modern times when rulers have made laws concerning Sunday keeping, but it would be foolish to argue that every time someone made a law like this that he changed the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, as some claim in the case of Constantine. Constantine merely accepted the Christian sabbath, Sunday, as the day of worship when he embraced the Christian religion. He did not change any day of worship for Christians. He changed the day of worship for pagans in the Roman Empire. The Laodicean Council in 364 A.D. did not change the day of worship for Christians from Saturday to Sunday. It merely confirmed the practice of Christians for 300 years or more, and made a definite decree that Christians should not work on Sunday.

2. The New International Encyclopedia on “Sunday” says, “For some time after the foundation of the Christian Church the converts FROM JUDAISM still observed the Jewish sabbath to a greater or lesser extent, at first, it would seem, concurrently with the celebration of the first day; but before the end of the apostolic period, Sunday, known as the Lord’s day, had thoroughly established itself as the special day to be sanctified [set apart] by rest from secular labor and by public worship. The hallowing of Sunday appears incontestably as a definite law in the Church by the beginning of the fourth century; and the Emperor Constantine confirmed the custom by a law of the state.”

3. The Catholic Encyclopedia on “Sunday” says, “Sunday was the first day of the week according to the Jewish method of reckoning, but for Christians it began to take the place of the Jewish sabbath in apostolic times as the day set apart for public and solemn worship of God.” This volume quotes a number of early Christian writings of the first, second, and third centuries to prove that Sunday was kept by Christians from the earliest times.

On pages 440-68 in “Bible Readings for the Home” Adventists give a number of quotations from modern Catholic writers proving that Catholics changed the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, but this proves nothing. They are mere boasts of modern men in trying to magnify the authority of the Roman Church and its pope. The authoritative Catholic Encyclopedia above does not confirm these recent claims of Catholics, which must be rejected as well as the Adventists’ claims, for they are not true to history. There was no Roman pope ruling the whole Christian world for centuries and yet Christians kept Sunday as their sabbath. On page 223 of the same book Adventists teach that the papacy came to power in 538 A.D., 217 years after Constantine made the law to keep the Christian sabbath in his empire, and 174 years after the Laodicean Council confirmed this ancient practice of Christians, and yet on page 440 of this book they claim the papacy is what changed the sabbath of the Christians from Saturday to Sunday. Consistency would certainly be an invaluable jewel in this case. How could the papacy change the sabbath long before it came into power?

4. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on “The Lord’s Day” says, “The Lord’s day in the New Testament occurs only in Rev. 1:10, but in post-apostolic literature we have the following references: the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, IX, 1, “No longer keeping the sabbath but living according to the Lord’s day, on which also our light arose…. Acts 2:46 represents the special worship as DAILY. But this could not continue long…. A choice of a special day must have become necessary, and this day would, of course, have been Sunday…. Uncircumcised Gentiles, however, were free from ally obligation of sabbath observance…. No observance of a special day of rest is contained among the ‘NECESSARY THINGS’ of Acts 15:28, 29…. A given day as a matter of divine obligation is denounced by Paul as forsaking Christ (Gal. 4:10), and sabbath-keeping is condemned explicitly in Col. 2:16. As a matter of individual devotion to be sure, a man might do as he pleased (Rom.14:5, 6), but no general rule as necessary for salvation could be compatible with liberty wherewith Christ has made us free (Gal. 2:1-21;3:1-14; 5:1-4, 13).”

5. We next quote from.the ten volumes called, “The Ante-Nicene Fathers,” the writings of the early church fathers down to 325 A.D. and before Constantine and the Catholic Church are supposed to have changed the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday:

(1) Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who lived at the time of the apostles, 30-107 A.D. He, like Polycarp, was a disciple of St. John and one who should know Christian practice among the early Christians as to the sabbath. He wrote, “And after the observance of the sabbath [that the Jews kept], let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all days of the week . . . on which our life sprang up again, and victory over death was obtained in Christ . . . it is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has come to an end…. If any man preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who is circumcised, than to a Judaism from one uncircumcised” (Vol. I, pages 63-82).

(2) In the epistle of Barnabas, ascribed to Paul’s companion by Clement, Origen, and others, we read, “He says to them, ‘your new moons and your sabbaths I cannot endure’ (Isa.1:13). Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present sabbaths are not acceptable to me…. I will make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose again from the dead” (Vol. I, Page 147).

(3) Justin Martyr, a Gentile born near Jacob’s well about 110 A.D. writes, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read…. But Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead” (Vol. I, Page 186).

In his dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, Justin Martyr says, “Is there any other matter, my friends, in which we are blamed, than this, that we live not according t. the law, and are not circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers were, and do not observe the sabbaths as you do…. Christians would observe the law, if they did not know why it was instituted…. For we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the sabbaths, and in short all feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you…. How is it, Trypho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us – I speak of fleshly circumcision, and sabbaths, and feasts? . . . The Gentiles, who have believed in Him, and who have repented of their sins . . . shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs . . . even although they neither keep the sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts…. Christ is useless to those who observe the law…. The sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts … have come to an end in Him who was born of a virgin…. But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given to Moses . . . along with their hope in Christ . . . they shall probably be saved” (Vol. I, Pages 199-218).

(4) Tertullian, presbyter of the North-African Church, who was born about 145 A.D., writes, “The Holy Spirit upbraids the Jews for their holydays. ‘Your sabbaths, and new moons, and ceremonies my soul hateth . . . But us [Christians], to whom sabbaths are strange . . . to the heathen each festive day occurs but once annually: you [Christians] have a festive day every eighth day…. others 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…. you who reproach us with the sun and Sunday should consider your own proximity to us. We are not far off from your Saturn and your days of rest…. It follows, accordingly, that, in so far as the abolition of carnal circumcision and of the old law is demonstrated as having been consummated at its specific times, so also the observance of the sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary” (Vol. III, Pages 70, 123, 155, 313-14).

(5) In “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles,” written about 80 A.D., we read, “But every Lord’s day [Sunday] do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread and give thanksgiving” (Vol. VII, Page 381).

(6) In the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (2nd century) we read, “Break your fast … the first day of the week, which is the Lord’s day…. After eight days let there be another feast observed with honor, the eighth day itself” (Vol. VII, Page 447).

(7) In “The Teachings of the Apostles,” written 105 A.D., we read, “The apostles therefore appointed: . . . on the first day of the week let there be service and reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation [Lord’s Supper]: because on the first day of the week our Lord arose upon the world, and ascended to heaven” (Vol. VIII, Page 668).

(8) Irenaeus, 178 A.D., in arguing that the Jewish sabbaths were signs and types and were not to be kept since the reality of which they were shadows has come, says, “The mystery of the Lord’s resurrection may not be celebrated on any other day than the Lord’s day and on this alone should we observe the breaking of the Paschal Feast…. Pentecost fell on the first day of the week, and was therefore associated with the Lord’s day.”

(9) Clement of Alexandria, 174 A.D., says, “The old seventh day has become nothing more than a working day.”

(10) Theophilus, pastor of Antioch, 162 A.D., says, “Both custom and reason challenge us that we should honor the Lord’s day, seeing on that day it was that our Lord completed His resurrection from the dead.”

(11) Origen, about 200 A.D., says, “John the Baptist was born to make ready a people for the Lord, a people for Him at the end of the covenant now grown old, which is the end of the sabbath…. It is one of the marks of a perfect Christian to keep the Lord’s day.”

(12) Victorianus, 300 A.D., says, “On the Lord’s day we go forth to our bread and giving of thanks. Lest we should appear to observe any sabbath with the Sews, which Christ Himself the Lord of the sabbath in His body abolished” (Section 4, “On the Creation”).

6. Eusebius, the Father of Church History, who made a history of the time between the birth of Christ and Constantine, and who lived 265-340 A.D., says, “From the beginning Christians assembled on the first day of the week, called by them the Lord’s Day, for the purpose of religious worship, to read the Scriptures, to preach and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper . . . the first day of the week on which the Saviour obtained the victory over death. Therefore, it has the pre-eminence, first in rank, and is more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath.”

Many other ancient testimonies could be given, as well as scores from more modern writers, but these are sufficient to prove that neither Constantine nor the pope or the Roman Catholic Church changed the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. For Constantine to change the Christian sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, the Christians would have had to keep Saturday up to the time of his decree and this they did not do. No greater falsehood has ever been taught the ignorant masses than this. As we have seen, Constantine merely accepted the Christian sabbath and he did not change the Christian’s day of worship at all. Early Christians called the first day the Lord’s day to distinguish it from the Jewish sabbath.

The question now is not whether the early Christians were right or wrong, but it is, was it their custom to keep the first day of the week as their sabbath before Constantine? Not one statement has ever been found that contradicted the above testimony of the early Christians, who ascribe Sunday-keeping to reasons other than the one some civil or religious leader changed it. Because the early Christians all confessed that they kept the first day of the week, then they told the truth or were self-confessed liars.

Elder Andrews, the ablest historian the Adventists ever had, says in his “History of the Sabbath,” Page 308, “The reasons offered by the early fathers for neglecting the observance of the sabbath show conclusively that they have no special light on the subject which we in this later age do not possess.” This is a frank admission of what we are contending for. If it is as clear to us today by the plain Scripture that the old Jewish sabbath was done away with the law of Moses, and Christians observed the first day as the Lord’s day and as the sabbath, then it is foolish for anybody to reject such simple and true light.