Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sabbaths in Early Christian Literature

This is an excerpt from the book, Acts of Peter and Paul, the stories recorded between the second and fourth centuries. I stress this first thing, some of the stories in the book were rejected by the church as myth (none included in this passage). But, it does relate some fascinating true stories. The church teaches that the book factually records the deaths of the two Apostles. It also gives us a look into the struggles of the earliest Roman Jews and Gentiles had over circumcision, sabbaths and other Jewish regulations. I have included the context but bolded the parts Seventh-day Adventists will find interesting.

This particular story must have happened during the time of book of Acts before the Council of Jerusalem, for Paul is unsure about some Christian theology. So we place the date c. AD 40s before Paul began writing.

And a report went about in the city of Rome that Paul the brother of Peter was coming. And those that believed in God rejoiced with great joy. And there was great consternation among the Jews.... They came together therefore to him, and exhorted him, saying:Vindicate the faith in which you were born; for it is not right that you, being a Hebrew, and of the Hebrews, should call yourself teacher of Gentiles and vindicator of the uncircumcised; and, being yourself circumcised, that you should bring to nought the faith of the circumcision.
And when you see Peter, contend against his teaching, because he has destroyed all the bulwarks of our law; for he has prevented the keeping of Sabbaths and new moons, and the holidays appointed by the law. And Paul answering, said to them: That I am a true Jew, by this you can prove; because also you have been able to keep the Sabbath, and to observe the true circumcision; for assuredly on the day of the Sabbath God rested from all His works. We have fathers, and patriarchs, and the law. What, then, does Peter preach in the kingdom of the Gentiles? But if he shall wish to bring in any new teaching, without any tumult, and envy, and trouble, send him word, that we may see, and in your presence I shall convict him. But if his teaching be true, supported by the book and testimony of the Hebrews, it becomes all of us to submit to him.
Then Peter and Paul meet with tears in Rome....
At dawn, behold, Peter coming, finds a multitude of the Jews before Paul's door. And there was a great uproar between the Christian Jews and the Gentiles. For, on the one hand, the Jews said: We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, the friends of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, with whom God spoke, to whom He showed His own mysteries and His great wonders. But you of the Gentiles are no great thing in your lineage; if otherwise, you have become polluted and abominable by idols and graven images.
While the Jews were saying such things, and such-like, those of the Gentiles answered, saying: We, when we heard the truth, straightway followed it, having abandoned our errors. But you, both knowing the mighty deeds of your fathers, and seeing the signs of the prophets, and having received the law, and gone through the sea with dry feet, and seen your enemies sunk in its depths, and the pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day shining upon you, and manna having been given to you out of heaven, and water flowing to you out of a rock—after all these things you fashioned to yourselves the idol of a calf, and worshipped the graven image. But we, having seen none of the signs, believe to be a Saviour the God whom you have forsaken in unbelief.
While they were contending in these and such-like words, the Apostle Paul said that they ought not to make such attacks upon each other, but that they should rather give heed to this, that God had fulfilled His promises which He swore to Abraham our father, that in his seed he should inherit all the nations. For there is no respect of persons with God. ... And Paul having thus spoken, both the Jews and they of the Gentiles were appeased.
(For the full story, google Acts of Peter and Paul.)

From early on, the issue of circumcision and keeping the weekly, monthly and yearly Sabbath regulations was of great concern to the early church. This specific topic created hostility between Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity. Yet, at this early date we can see that Peter was teaching that these regulations were no longer a part of the New Covenant.


Anonymous said...

You might find this interesting. I saw this on the Catholic web sight the Daily Catholic.

"Events that happened Today in Church History
Today is the 1,665th anniversary of the death of Pope Saint Sylvester I. This 33rd Roman Pontiff in the line of Peter was the first to wear the Tiered Tiara, though it was only one tier at the time, representing spiritual. Elected on January 31, 314 his pontificate lasted 21 years and he will forever be remembered as the Pope who presided over the historic first Ecumenical Council at Nicea wherein the "Nicene Creed" - still prayed at Sunday Masses and Solemn Feast Days to this day - was formulated and Arianism was condemned while the Council Fathers settled the dispute over God the Father and God the Son decreeing them consubstantial. It would be in the Second Council at Constantinople 56 years later that God the Holy Spirit would be acknowledged to complete the Divinity of the Trinity. It was St. Sylvester who instituted Sunday as the Sabbath in recognition of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Ever mindful of the passion, he established the "Iron Crown" using a nail from the Holy Cross founded by Saint Helena in Jerusalem during her son Constantine's reign."

I wish you well.

Teresa Beem said...

Interesting that the Daily Catholic didn't cite a source for that statement because I can't find anything coming out of an official Catholic source that says anything at all about this.

Since I wrote extensively about the development of the Sabbath in our book, I can pretty much assure you that you are not reading this correctly anyway. Even if true, which I need more evidence than a online side note of a Catholic magazine. (You do realize that Catholics go to the Catechism and dogmatic statements for official beliefs, right?)

Christians have always attended Sunday worship services since the beginning.... (they worshipped daily Acts 2:46).

Starting during this time mentioned--around the fourth century, there were many scholars (and perhaps the pope) that were debating whether Sunday was a New Covenant Sabbath (taking the place of the commandment and Jewish day of rest) or if the day was fulfilling the first/eighth day in scripture.

This particular pope might have (I found no evidence yet) taught that, but it doesn't make it official Catholic doctrine.

From the first, the church has taught ever more strongly, to clarify against heresy that kept resurfacing over the centuries, that Sunday is a celebration of the Lord's Resurrection. The early church in the East kept both the Sabbath and The Lord's Day--hence why we have the weekends and why so many of the days of the weeks in so many languages are a derivative of Sabbath and The Lord's Day (Domine Deus).

Though the church says the Lord's day REPLACES Sabbath in essence and is holy because Christ chose to rise on that day, it is technically the first/eighth day--not the seventh. Today you will still hear at the Vatican Saturday called Sabbado and still hear the Pope and all the priests calling Saturday the Jewish Sabbath. There is no mix up.

However, just as Saturday flanked the Old Testament as the LAST DAY of the Old Covenant--so Sunday begins the New Covenant. It is the old and new with the Cross as the doorway between.

Catholics have often used the holiness of the Sabbath and its characteristics to describe the holiness of Sunday. JUST as the New Moon festivals monthly and the yearly Sabbaths resembled the weekly Sabbaths. Please read our blog entry that shows that Christ worshipped on Sunday AS A SABBATH many times in His life.

Often Catholics will call Sunday "Sabbath" just out of ignorance or convenience... because frankly nobody but SDAs care.... If you think of Sabbath as a general descriptive word meaning "rest" then Sunday IS a Sabbath to the Christian world. But if you mean Sabbath as the Jewish 7th day of the 3 or 4th commandment (depending on your numbering of the commandments), then Catholic official statement is that the Lord's day has ALWAYS been kept holy as a celebration of the Lord's resurrection and as a fulfillment of the Biblical first/eighth day.

Easy to misunderstand. Adventists tend to do that.

Anonymous said...

Teresa thanks for the post. While looking through a United Church of God (UCG) booklet "God's Sabbath Rest" They claim that many leaders and authorities acknowledge that Saturday is the biblical Sabbath day and there is no biblical basis for Sunday observance.

UCG proceeds to use these sources as "admissions" by the Roman Catholic Church and coin the term "Protestants follow Rome's lead" and use various sources from protestant faiths to support UCG claim.

The whole booklet can be found at

The page numbers are 44-45 of what I am touching on.

Here are the sources UCG uses in regards to Roman Catholics.

“Nowhere in the Bible do we find that Christ
or the Apostles ordered that the Sabbath be
changed from Saturday to Sunday. We have the
commandment of God given to Moses to keep
holy the Sabbath day, that is the 7th day of the
week, Saturday. Today most Christians keep
Sunday because it has been revealed to us by
the [Roman Catholic] church outside the Bible”
(“To Tell You the Truth,” The Catholic Virginian,
Oct. 3, 1947, p. 9).

“But since Saturday not Sunday, is specified
in the Bible, isn’t it curious that non-Catholics
who profess to take their religion directly from
the Bible, and not the Church, observe Sunday
instead of Saturday? Yes of course, it is
inconsistent; but this change was made about
15 centuries before Protestantism was born,
and by that time the custom was universally
observed. They have continued the custom,
even though it rests upon the authority of the
Catholic Church and not upon an explicit text in
the Bible” (Dr. John O’Brien, Faith of Millions,
pp. 543-544).

“You may read the Bible from Genesis to
Revelation, and you will not find a a single line
authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The
Scriptures enforce the religious observance of
Saturday, a day which we never sanctify”
(James Cardinal Gibbons, Faith of our Fathers,
88th ed., p. 89).

“Q: Which is the Sabbath day?
“A: Saturday is the Sabbath day.
“Q: Why do we observe Sunday instead of
“A: We observe Sunday instead of Saturday
because the Catholic Church, in the Council of
Laodicea, transferred the solemnity from Saturday
to Sunday” (Peter Geiermann, The Convert’s
Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, 1957, p. 50).

I bring this to light as I wonder why UCG uses these sources as Catholic admissions and why don't they quote the Official teachings of the Catholic faith along with the Protestant faiths - no need to answer just talking out loud :).

If one does not know history or how a church creates dogma or doctrines the claim can be believable.

Do you have any suggestions on how to respond to someone using these sources as references in the manner that they are?

The only thing I have come up with is that these men quoted don't make up or have the final authority of what the catholic church teaches as dogma.

reginald stevenson said...

the acts 2:46 verse is always used in defense of Sunday, but it cannot be used as such because it is talking about fellow-shipping together every single day. Pay close attention to the fact that they also went to different houses also. We have to be very careful in using a verse like this and quite frankly taking it out of context to support worshiping on just one day.

Teresa Beem said...

Let's look at that text:

Acts 2:46 NAS

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart...

1. What were they doing in the temple? People went to the temple to worship. So we know that each day, as a group, they went there to worship God.

2. The phrase, "breaking bread" is the word for the communion meal, the Lord's Supper. If you will research the contemporary writings of early Christians you will find they all agree that this is a worship service. Paul spoke about this in Corinthians.

I Cor. 11: 20-31 (excerpts)

When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat.... For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." ...For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.

As you can read this was a very solemn breaking of the bread--a worship of Christ.

The early church worshipped daily.

Also Reginald, keep in mind that the Temple in Jerusalem was also worshipping and having sacrifices to God on Sunday. It too offered sacrifices daily to the Lord.

God's people have always worshipped on Sunday. It was on the weekly Sabbath that Israel was told to REST... not worship.

Allan Javellana said...

I agree that 'breaking bread' CAN mean partaking of the Lord's supper (communion). However, I think it is NOT the ONLY meaning.

From the 'authorized' version?

Acts 2:46

46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

I believe the "breaking bread from house to house", in THIS instance, is talking about a potluck-type meal...and in the following text also.


1 Corinthians 11

20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.

21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

reginald stevenson said...

everything you have said, i already know. but i will make one thing very clear, the fact that they rested on the Seventh-day just like Jesus did and just like Paul did goes to prove that the Seventh-day is set apart from all of the others and sanctified and holy. I have to strongly disagree with you that you have any proof whatsoever that this verse sets Sunday apart somehow. it does not.

Teresa Beem said...

Reginald, Where in the Bible does it say Paul rested on the Sabbath? We know he preached and went to the synagogues but neither of those things were commanded. In fact nowhere in scripture are post-exilic Israel commanded to sacrifice and worship except in the temple at Jerusalem. The corporate meetings at the synagogues are traditions of the Rabbis.

Israel was commanded to rest on Sabbath no worship, so please show me where Paul did this. Thank you.

Teresa Beem said...


Acts 10: 16 The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?

Notice that "bread which we break" is directly related to the "body of the Lord."

The early church did have pot lucks AFTER the church services much like we do today. But they called them love feasts.

The text in Acts 2:46 might have included both the breaking of bread AND the love feast, but since the "breaking of bread" was very specifically tied by the Apostles to the Lord's Supper worship, we can know at the very LEAST that is what happened. The early christians were worshipping in the Temple AND worshipping in their respective homes every day.... including Sunday!

That is good news!

Teresa Beem said...

One other thing Reginald. Have you read my post that tediously... tediously points out that at the VERY least Christ attended annual Sabbath mandatory holy convocations 57 times that fell on SUNDAYS!!

So indeed, Jesus did keep Sundays as Sabbaths when the annual Sabbaths happened to fall on Sundays. If that were intrinsically wrong--He wouldn't have done it.

Therefore, we can be assured attending church services on Sunday can never be evil--if Jesus did it!