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A minor


Monday, June 23, 2003

Sabbath and Sunday in Church History, Pt I

Sparked by a couple recent posts on Sabbath and Sunday issues - Shannon Trisler's June 22 and Jeff Meyers' June 20 entries - I decided to write a brief, occasional series on the history of these days and doctrines. I will particularly try to trace sources from the early church, the medieval period, and the Protestant tradition that are used by contemporary Sabbatarians. My posts will pull greatly from Richard J Bauckham's chapters in DA Carson, ed, From Sabbath to Lord's Day (Zondervan, 1982; Wipf & Stock, 1999), a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject.

The most consistent Sunday Sabbatarians argue that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday, not by the New Testament, but by the authority of the Christian Church. Around AD 380, the Synod or Council of Laodicea wrote in Canon 29 that "Christians must not judaize, and rest on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, and honor rather the Lord's Day, and, if they can, rest then as Christians." Interestingly, it is Laodicea that Peter Geiermann cites in his Convert's Catechism of Catholic Doctrine:
Q: Which is the Sabbath day?
A: Saturday is the Sabbath.
Q: Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
A: We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church in the Council of Laodicea (AD 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.
But Laodicea makes no transference per se, as is seen in Canons 49 and 51, which speak of the Sabbath and the Lord's Day as separate days and, in fact, the two days of the week on which certain ordinances can be perfomed during Lent. Regardless, many Christians, from the early church and medieval periods to the Reformation and the present day, have believed that the Saturday Sabbath was changed to the Sunday Lord's Day or Christian Sabbath in a one-to-one way. Where did such notions originate?

Around AD 330, fifty years before Laodicea, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote his commentary on Psalm 91 (92 in English versions), which Richard Bauckham (in "Sabbath and Sunday in the Post-Apostolic Church," in Carson, pp 282 ff) describes as "the first extant Christian work that claims that the Sabbath had been transferred to Sunday." It is worth quoting Bauckhams' analysis of Eusebius at length:
"The care with which Eusebius avoid the idea of inactivity on the Sabbath is notable. The Sabbath was devoted to the service of God and works pleasing to God. The activity of Christians on the Lord's Day is analogous to the activity of the priests on the Mosaic Sabbath; it is the service of God in worship. It is this priestly activity of worship that has been transferred from the Sabbath to Sunday.

"Eusebius' arguments are largely traditional; the following essential elements have already appeared in earlier writers, especially the Alexandrians: (1) True Sabbath rest is contemplation of divine things. (2) Men will share this rest of God in the world to come. (3) Devotion of the whole of life to the contemplation of divine things is an image of the eschatological rest. (4) The Mosaic Sabbath was a shadow of the eschatological rest. (5) The Christian Sunday is an image of the eschatological rest.

"The original element in Eusebius is the synthesis of these elements to present Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. There is an unnoticed falacy [however] in the synthesis, which explains why it had not already been reached by the Alexandrians. Eusebius maintains that the Mosaic Sabbath was not for the priests, whose whole life was devoted to God, but rather for the people, who devoted only the Sabbath to God. Christians, however, are said to correspond to the patriarchs, who had no Sabbath but devoted their whole lives to the contemplation of God. The Christian Sabbath therefore, on these analogies, is not the Lord's Day but all days. This is how the traditional argument had run."
I have put Bauckham's next two paragraphs in the comments, for those who are interested.

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