Dies Domini: Is Saturday the True Sabbath?

While I was preparing to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, I was asked to memorize the Ten Commandments and the Six Precepts of the Church; included in those Six Precepts was the command “to assist at Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation.”[1] Growing up as a Protestant, I always went to worship services on Sundays and never gave it a second thought; from my earliest days it was just understood that worshiping God is what you do, and Sunday is when you do it. But why? Why is Sunday the day of worship? Why not Saturday, since that was the day on which God rested from Creation, and it was the day that was observed by the Jews of the Old Testament as “the Sabbath” for five thousand years?

My family very recently had the great grace of hosting a traditional Catholic priest in our home for several days, and while he was with us, I had — for the first time — the even greater grace of assisting at Holy Mass in the role of an altar server. As Father coached me through the various gestures and motions, I was once again impressed by one fact about the Church: nothing is left to chance. Everything, and I mean everything, has a reason behind it. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Church has a reason — and a very good reason, at that — for honoring Sunday in a special way as the day set aside for the worship of the One True God. In fact, the answer is right there in the catechism:

Why does the Church command us to keep Sunday as the Lord’s day?

The Church commands us to keep Sunday as the Lord’s day because on Sunday Christ rose from the dead, and on Sunday the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. For these reasons the Church changed the Lord’s day from Saturday to Sunday.[2]


These reasons are more than satisfactory for the Catholic. If it were not enough for us that two of the greatest events of the true religion (the Resurrection of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost) fell on a Sunday, certainly it would be enough that the Holy Church, into whose hands Our Lord has bequeathed His divine authority, has ruled that Sunday be the “day of the Lord.” Sadly, amongst those inventors of new religions outside the Catholic Church, there is always something to be found in the Church’s teachings about which they can contend. Some Judaistic Protestants, not satisfied with accusing the Church of inventing (out of whole cloth, of course) Purgatory, the Mass, confession, the Marian dogmas, the papacy, indulgences, veneration of the saints, etc., go on also to accuse the Church of violating Scripture and breaking the commandments of God with regard to the day on which we worship.

The Sign of the Anti-Christ?

There have been a handful of sects throughout Church history who have insisted that the Jewish Sabbath — that is, Saturday — is the day on which God desires us to worship Him. One writer says, “numerous attempts have been made to revive the keeping of the seventh day. . . . A party tried it at the Reformation. . . . In England the Seventh Day Baptists tried it two hundred and fifty years ago. . . . Seventh-Day Adventists have tried it for fifty years. . . . “[3] To this list of defectors can also be added the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a handful of other sects.[4] I have chosen to narrow my examinations to include only the arguments and objections of the Seventh-Day Adventists. Of the above groups mentioned, only the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to have any public recognition (and therefore, published works with which to interact), and of those two, only the Seventh-Day Adventists can reasonably be called “Protestant.”[5]

Seventh-Day Adventism is itself an off-shoot of the Adventist sect, which sprang up as late as the mid-1800s; “Adventism” refers to this group’s particular emphasis on prophecy and the “Advent” or Second Coming of Christ. After asserting that the return of Christ would be in the year 1843, and then following up this miscalculation by proclaiming that His return was postponed until the following year, the original Adventists quickly self-destructed. A “remnant” of this group managed to save face by asserting that Christ had returned as predicted, but that He had returned in a “spiritual” manner. Subsequently, one “Joseph Bates became the apostle of the Sabbath to James and Ellen White, the two other founders of Seventh-Day Adventism. Bates, in turn, had received the light on the seventh day from T.M. Preble, who had accepted the Sabbath in the summer of 1844.”[6]

In addition to their peculiar insistence that the seventh day (Saturday) be honored as the Lord’s Day, the Seventh-Day Adventists (hereafter “SDAs”) also teach that the souls of the wicked will be completely annihilated at the Judgment. Another characteristic of SDAs, as we will soon see, is their deeply-rooted belief that the papacy is the anti-Christ, and that the Church’s decision to mark Sunday as the Lord’s day is irrefutable proof of this assertion.

In the prophet Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, which represented four future kingdoms, the fourth beast/kingdom “shall be greater than all the kingdoms . . . the ten horns of the same kingdom, shall be ten kings: and another shall rise up after them, and he shall be mightier than the former . . . he shall speak words against the High One, and shall crush the saints of the most High: and he shall think himself able to change times and laws, and they shall be delivered into his hand until a time, and times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:23-25, author’s underscore for emphasis).[7] This last part of the prophecy, wherein the anti-Christ will “think himself able to change times and laws,” is where the SDAs pick up their argument. Ellen White wrote:

Prophecy had declared that the papacy was to “think to change times and laws.” . . .

Satan tampered with the fourth commandment[8] also, and essayed to set aside the ancient Sabbath … and in its stead to exalt the festival observed by the heathen as “the venerable day of the sun.” . . . That the attention of the people might be called to the Sunday, it was made a festival in honor of the resurrection of Christ. . . .

The Last Supper by Champaigne

A few years after the issue of Constantine’s decree, the bishop of Rome conferred on the Sunday the title of Lord’s day.[9]

Mrs. White goes on further to say that “No such honor was given to the day by Christ or his [sic] apostles. The observance of Sunday as a Christian institution has its origin in that ‘mystery of lawlessness’ which, even in Paul’s day, had begun its work.”[10] Thus, the claim is made that a) Christ and His apostles observed Saturday as the Lord’s day, not Sunday, b) the honor given to Sunday originates in paganism’s worship of the sun, c) the pope (working with Satan) changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, and d) this fulfills the prophecy of Daniel concerning the anti-Christ.

Turning to the book of St. John’s Apocalypse, SDAs find still further proof for their claim. The text says:

And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon … And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads. (Apoc. 13:11, 16; KJV)

If any man worship the beast … and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God … and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. (Apoc. 14:9-12, KJV, author’s underscore for emphasis)

Concerning this “mark of the beast,” Mrs. White wrote, “It is the mark of the first beast, or the papacy … the Roman Church … was to think to change times and laws … an act of obedience to papal laws would be a mark of allegiance to the pope in the place of God.”[11] Stating the case more explicitly still, she says, “The change of the Sabbath is the sign, or mark, of the authority of the Romish Church. Those who, understanding the claims of the fourth commandment, choose to observe the false in place of the true Sabbath, are thereby paying homage to that power by which alone it is commanded. The change in the fourth commandment is the change pointed out in the prophecy [of Daniel], and the keeping of the counterfeit Sabbath is the reception of the mark [of the beast].”[12]

An illumination taken from the book of the Apocalypse depicting the beast and the false prophet

T.M. Preble, in his Tract, Showing that the Seventh Day should be Observed as the Sabbath, Instead of the First Day (1845), argues that God established the seventh day specifically as His Sabbath day, that Christ and the apostles all observed the seventh day as the Sabbath, and that nowhere in Scripture are we ever told that this eternal commandment was abolished. He writes, “Jesus Christ brought in a new covenant which continued the sign of the Sabbath … if the children of God are the true Israel, and if the Sabbath was given as a sign forever, and a perpetual covenant, I ask, how can it be abolished while there is one Israelite remaining to claim the promise?”[13] It seems, however, that SDAs cannot fully agree on exactly when the Church or pope made this change. Mrs. White, quoted above, said that “the bishop of Rome” made the change, a “few years after the issue of Constantine’s decree,” which would be in the early-to-mid fourth century; Preble, in his Tract, says that in “A.D. 603 … Pope Gregory passed a law abolishing the seventh day Sabbath, and establishing the first day.”[14] In still another source, the Advent Review (October 9, 1888), we find it said that “The first authoritative action of the Catholic church in substituting the Sunday for the Sabbath of the Lord, was that of the Council of Laodicea in the year 364.”[15]

Obviously, then, the challenge to the Catholic comes on several fronts; first, we must examine the argument that the Seventh-DaySabbath was truly “given as a sign forever, and a perpetual covenant”; next, we must show from Scripture that the Apostles did, in fact, worship on Sunday; finally, we have to answer the accusation that it was a pope (or council) who imposed the change, and that this was not done until (at the earliest) the mid-to-late fourth century.

What Saith the Scriptures?

The SDAs have a point, do they not, when they say that the Seventh-Day-Sabbath was given as a perpetual sign? We read in the book of Exodus that God said, “Let the children of Israel keep the Sabbath, and celebrate it in their generations. It is an everlasting covenant between me and the children of Israel, and a perpetual sign” (Ex. 31:16-17, author’s underscore for emphasis). Preble asks, “Has the day ever been changed? If so, when and where? Please point to the chapter and verse.”[16] Mrs. White likewise says, “For this change the only authority claimed is that of the church. Here the papal power openly sets itself above God.”[17]

One thing that the astute reader will recognize immediately, however, is that twice in the Exodus text mention is made of the perpetuity of this command (“everlasting covenant … perpetual sign”), and this is balanced by exactly two qualifiers that identify for whom this command was given: “Let the children of Israel keep the Sabbath … It is an everlasting covenant between me and the children of Israel. . . .” (emphasis added) Obviously, then, there is something very specific (indeed, very temporal) about this command; it is given for the children of Israel — an everlasting covenant and sign, to be sure, but a covenant and sign “between me and the children of Israel.” That covenant, however, was broken by the “children of Israel,” and ultimately, a New Covenant was inaugurated. The SDAs take a bit of liberty, then, in saying that because we are the “spiritual Israel” (which we are), we are therefore under the obligation to obey the covenant commands given to literal Israel.

In fact, the Seventh-Day-sign of the covenant is not the only “everlasting” sign that was given by God to Israel, only to be abrogated later. When God made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, He imposed a covenant sign that — like the Seventh-Day-Sabbath — was said to be eternal: “This is my covenant which you shall observe between me and you, and thy seed after thee: All the male kind of you shall be circumcised . . . that it may be for a sign of the covenant between me and you. . . . And my covenant shall be in your flesh for a perpetual covenant” (Gen. 17:10-13, emphasis added). Of course, as we all know (or should know), the ritual of circumcision was abrogated with the coming of the New Covenant, and officially done away with at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. That is to say, the situation with the “perpetual covenant” of circumcision is nearly identical to that of the Seventh-DaySabbath; we could easily aim Preble’s words at St. Peter when he decreed that circumcision was no longer required: “Please point to chapter and verse!” Mrs. White’s remarks about the Sabbath could have easily been on the lips of the Judaizers with regard to circumcision: “For this change the only authority claimed is that of the church!”

We will see later, in our survey of the Church Fathers on the subject, that Scriptural support for the abrogation of the Seventh-Day-Sabbath was hardly lacking; it was foretold generations before Christ in the holy prophets, so it can hardly be said that the change was made solely on the authority of the Church. But even if it were so, even if our only support for the change rested on the Church alone, this too would be Scriptural, if we would only recall the words of Our Lord to the “Magisterium” of the infant Church: “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matt. 18:18, emphasis added). If any authority on earth has the jurisdiction to make these changes, to “loose” us from the requirements of circumcision and the Seventh-Day-Sabbath, it is the Church.

Thus we can establish at least the basic principle to support our case: 1) the fact that the Seventh-Day-Sabbath is called “perpetual” need not necessarily mean that it could never be abrogated, because the covenant of circumcision also was called a “perpetual sign,” and it was abrogated; 2) Our Lord bequeathed to the Church the authority to make precisely these kinds of disciplinary and juridical decisions, which authority we can see being exercised at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

If we must look for positive evidence to couple with our negative evidence, it must be admitted (for what little difference it makes) that there is no explicit verse in Scripture that abrogates the Seventh-Day-Sabbath. The SDA may wish to cling to this fact, and indeed, he must; it is the last shaky piece of his foundation that is left to him after all the Scriptural evidence has been compiled and joined to the unanimous testimony of the early Church. While there may be no explicit statement in Scripture to the effect that the Seventh-Day-Sabbath is no longer binding, there is plenty of implicit evidence, both in the statements of the Apostles and in their actions.

We may begin with the words of St. Paul taken from numerous places in his various epistles. In his Epistle to the Romans, he speaks of how the Christians are to treat “him that is weak in faith” (cf. 14:1-5), that is, the Jewish converts who still had scruples about following the Mosaic Law. As examples, he contrasts the strong Christian who “believeth that he may eat all things” with “he that is weak,” who will “eat herbs”; he contrasts the strong Christian who “judgeth every day” with the weak who “judgeth between day and day.” The sense of the passage is somewhat lost in the English of the Douay-Rheims, because the Greek literally speaks of the weak Christian who “separates day from day,” or as the RSV (Revised Standard Version) has it, “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike.” (14:5, emphasis added) For the Christian, every day is the Sabbath, for he worships Jesus Christ, the “Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28) Indeed, in my more feisty moments I am tempted to simply tweak the nose of the SDAs and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about — Catholics do worship on the seventh day, and on the sixth, and on the fifth, and the fourth, and every other day of the week, because our priests offer the Sacrifice of the Mass every single day!” The SDAs, however, like their ancient Jewish counterpart, want to “judge between day and day.”

In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, a hair-raising written rebuke of the Galatian Christians who were being tempted to return to an observance of the Jewish ritual laws, he says, “You observe days and months and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest perhaps I have laboured in vain among you” (Gal. 4:10-11, emphasis added). His reference here, of course, is to the Jewish festival days, such as the Sabbath, the new moon feasts (“months”), the yearly festivals, etc. In The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (ca. 130), the Apostolic Father, Mathetes, sees this passage as referring precisely to the Jewish Sabbath: he speaks of “[the Jews’] scrupulosity concerning meats,” “their superstition as respects the Sabbaths,” “their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the new moons,” and pronounces all of it “utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice.”[18]

Most explicit of all is St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians: “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a festival day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17, emphasis added). The SDAs will want to argue that St. Paul’s “Sabbaths” are different from the Sabbath which God sanctified and consecrated as a perpetual holy day,[19] but they bear the burden of demonstrating why the word sabbaton means “yearly festival Sabbaths” here in Colossians 2, but means the Sabbath day every other time it is used in the New Testament.[20]

Joined to these proofs we also may look at the Gospels, wherein we will discover something that the early Church knew and took for granted, the very reason why the change was made to honor the “Sabbath” on Sunday instead of Saturday. We find in St. John’s Gospel these words: “And on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen cometh early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre: and she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre. . . .” (John 20:1, emphasis added). We all know the rest of the story, do we not? It was on this Sunday, this “first day of the week,” that Mary Magdalen and the holy women discovered that Our Lord had risen from the dead.

Later on in the same chapter, as if to emphasize the importance of this day, St. John writes: “Now when it was late the same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them: Peace be to you” (John 20:19, emphasis added). On this occasion, Our Lord breathed upon the Apostles and gave them the Holy Ghost, saying, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (v. 23).

Still later in this chapter we read, “And after eight days, again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you” (John 20:26, emphasis added). This is an exact literary repetition of verse 19, with the exception that it is not now “the first of the week,” but “after eight days.” That is to say, this event (the story goes on to relate how Our Lord revealed Himself to St. Thomas for the first time) took place — to use Catholic terminology — on the octave of Easter Sunday. The Resurrection, the commissioning of the Apostles, and the revelation to St. Thomas all took place on Sunday. If we may be granted a bit of liberty in interpreting the texts of St. John’s Gospel with a hint of “mysticism,” we may certainly say that St. John wishes us to understand that Sunday is the day upon which we meet the Risen Christ; Mary Magdalen met Him on that day; the Apostles met Him on that day; St. Thomas met Him in a special way on that day; we too will meet Him on this day (or so St. John seems to be relating to us by implication).

Count fifty days forward, and you arrive at the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, upon which occasion Our Lord sent the Holy Ghost to confirm the Apostles, thus giving “birth” to the Church: this, too, was a Sunday. What would be more natural, then, but for the early Church to give a special honor and reverence to this day? What would be their reason for continuing to honor the “holy day” which was a sign of the Old Covenant, when the holy Apostles were continually impressing upon the minds of the faithful that the Old Covenant had been fulfilled in Christ and superseded by the gospel?

The SDAs are quick to point out that the Apostles continued to give honor to the Seventh-Day Sabbath by going up to the temple every Sabbath day. But there is no reason the Apostles should not have done this. They were still Jews, after all, and the radical break with Judaism did not happen until God Himself radically broke the Jewish religion by sending the Romans to destroy the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Until that time, there was a necessary period of overlap, during which these born-and-bred Jews (who also happened to be Apostles of the New Covenant) did what was natural to them: they went up to the temple to pray at the appointed times. (The temple was still a holy place, the Old Covenant ritual observances — as the Church explains it — were dead but not deadly.) What they most assuredly did not do, as we may infer from St. Paul’s blistering rebuke of the Galatians, is treat these Jewish customs as binding and necessary for salvation. As the Church moved on into history, many Jewish converts continued to practice certain Jewish customs, and the Church tolerated this (though, significantly, treating it as a weakness) so long as no one said that these customs were binding or salvific.

Pentecost Sunday

While some Jewish converts continued to observe the Seventh-Day-Sabbath, it also is true that the new Christians met together to worship their Risen Lord on Sunday, the day of His Resurrection. Thus, we read in Acts 20 that “on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread, Paul discoursed with [the believers in Troas] … And he continued his speech until midnight … And a certain young man named Eutychus, sitting on the window, being oppressed with a deep sleep . . . by occasion of his sleep fell from the third loft down and was taken up dead. To whom, when Paul had gone down, he laid himself upon him and, embracing him, said: Be not troubled, for his soul is in him. Then going up and breaking bread and tasting, and having talked a long time to them, until daylight, so he departed” (Acts 20:7-11, emphasis added).

I have taken the time to quote a good portion of this story, because there is something mystical in the whole thing. Not only do we have the mention of “the first day of the week” combined with the practice of meeting together as an assembly “to break bread” (the early Church’s term for the Mass), we also see several interesting motifs. One scholar of St. Luke’s writings says that “this gesture [of breaking bread] is closely related to the ‘death’ and the ‘resurrection’ of Eutychus. . . . We note also the imagery of the night and the dawn, related to the negative moment and the positive moment, respectively.”[21] Thus in this single narrative, we have the Eucharist, coupled with a kind of “death” and “resurrection,” which takes place in the context of a transition from the night to the dawn, all on the “first day of the week” (not to mention the seemingly-superfluous detail that the young man fell “from the third loft”)! This may not be an explicit text that plainly says “the seventh day Sabbath was abrogated in favor of a Sunday Sabbath,” but it is more than enough proof for those who have eyes to see.

The Anti-Christ Came Early

At this point, we will examine claims of the SDAs that it was a pope or a Church council which, in the mid-fourth century at the earliest, imposed the exchange of the Seventh-Day-Sabbath for the Sunday Sabbath, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel concerning the anti-Christ who would “think to change” the holy law. We may begin with the witness of St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing around 110 AD (within living memory of the Apostles, and within a mere ten years of the death of St. John):

If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death . . . if this be so, how shall we be able to live apart from Him?[22] (emphasis added)

What is most noteworthy in this passage is that St. Ignatius specifically contrasts the Old Covenant “Sabbaths” with “the Lord’s day,” which is then identified with the day of His Resurrection. This is to the point because the SDAs often claim that every reference to “the Lord’s day” in the New Testament must be assumed to be referring to the Seventh-Day-Sabbath, since that was the Lord’s day in the Old Covenant and there is no Scriptural warrant for calling Sunday “the Lord’s day.” Preble, for example, says “Rev. i. 10, is the only other place that can be construed to favor the first day — John says ‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.’ — Now, who knows whether he meant the first or the seventh day? I think the latter, because it is called ‘the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,’ but the first, is nowhere called so!!”[23] Here, however, we have the witness of a New Testament Christian who lived during the episcopal reign of St. John (whose words in Apoc. 1:10 are here under dispute), who no doubt studied under St. John before the Apostle’s exile, and who afterwards became himself the bishop of St. John’s churches in Asia Minor.[24] St. Ignatius gives us explicit testimony that in this age of the Church “the Lord’s day” referred to Sunday, and not to the old “Sabbaths.”

We can then look to the Didache, which purports to be the teaching of “The Twelve,” and is generally agreed to have been written between 90-100 AD, again, well within living memory of the Apostles. There we find:

And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks,[25] first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.[26]

Again, recalling that there is no historical evidence that the early Christians ever met together for weekly worship on any other day than Sunday, this is more implicit evidence that the early Christians referred to Sunday (the day when they would “break bread”) as “the Lord’s own day.”

St. Justin Martyr, writing between 140-160 AD, wrote in defense of Christianity to the Roman Emperor, and said that “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, as long as time permits, etc.”; he goes on to describe the average Sunday Mass in great detail. More instructive still is St. Justin’s dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, on precisely the issue of the Sabbath and other Jewish customs: “But the Gentiles . . . shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and . . . the just men who are descended from Jacob, even though they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts.”[27] Trypho asks St. Justin if those who do keep the Jewish customs, even after becoming Christians, can be saved. St. Justin responds, “such a one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men . . . telling them that they will not be saved unless they do so . . . [I]f some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses . . . yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful . . . not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath . . . then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren.”[28] Notice that, like St. Paul, St. Justin sees those Jewish converts who wish to continue observing the Sabbath as influenced by “weak-mindedness.”

In his epistle, St. Barnabas, companion of St. Paul (and one of the seventy-two disciples of Our Lord), quotes from Isaiah 1:13, “Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure,” and comments, “Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but . . . I shall make a beginning of the eighth day . . . Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”[29]

Tertullian, writing at the beginning of the third century, says, “In the same way, if we devote Sunday to rejoicing, from a far different reason than Sun-worship, we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn [i.e., Saturn’s Day, or “Saturday”] to ease and luxury . . .”[30] Again he says, “We neither accord with the Jews in their peculiarities in regard to food, nor in their sacred days, nor even in their well-known bodily sign. . . .”[31] More explicitly still, he spends an entire chapter of his Answer to the Jews on the question of the Sabbath: “[W]e (Christians) understand that we still more ought to observe a sabbath from all ‘servile work’ always, and not only every seventh day, but through all time . . . For the Scriptures point to a sabbath eternal and a sabbath temporal . . . it is manifest that the force of such precepts was temporary, and respected the necessity of present circumstances; and that it was not with a view to its observance in perpetuity that God formerly gave them such a law.”[32]

St. Cyprian in the mid-third century wrote of the sacramental foreshadowing of the eighth day: “In respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage . . . because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again . . . and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure.”[33]

We find in the mid-third century Apostolic Constitutions, “Assemble yourselves together every day . . . in the morning saying the sixty-second Psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth, but principally on the Sabbath-day. And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently. . . . Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day to hear the saving word concerning the resurrection . . .?”[34]

Near the end of the third century, St. Victorinus, in his On the Creation of the World, is more explicit still in his statement that Christians do not keep the Jewish Sabbath specifically because they do not wish to be identified with the Jews: “On the [sixth] day we are accustomed to fast rigorously, that on the Lord’s day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks. And let the parasceve [i.e., the Sabbath] become a rigorous fast, lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews, which Christ Himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, says by His prophets that ‘His soul hateth’; which Sabbath He in His body abolished.”[35] Note again the reference to Sunday as “the Lord’s day.”

Ellen White, founder of the Seventh Day Adventists

Ellen White, founder of the Seventh Day Adventists

Finally, we come to the early-to-mid-fourth century, right about the time when — according to the SDAs — the pope and/or council imposed for the first time the ‘demonic’ change in the days of worship. Here we find the words of Eusebius, the “Father of Church History,” and he says, “All those who have enjoyed the testimony of righteousness, from Abraham himself back to the first man, were Christians in fact if not in name . . . They did not care about circumcision of the body, neither do we. They did not care about observing Sabbaths, nor do we.”[36] Later, in describing the heresy of the Ebionite sect, he writes, “The Sabbath and the rest of the discipline of the Jews they observed just like them, but at the same time, like us, they celebrated the Lord’s days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour. Wherefore, in consequence of such a course they received the name of Ebionites, which signified the poverty of their understanding.”[37] Notice again: the Ebionites are heretics, and they act like Jews in their observance of the Sabbath — in contradistinction to the Christians; also, the “Lord’s day” is the “memorial of the resurrection”: Sunday.

With this last testimony I should be content to close, but I cannot resist the temptation to quote one last Church Father, one of the greatest of that age: St. Augustine. The great bishop of Hippo, recall, was writing in the early fifth century, shortly after (the SDAs say) the pope/council had introduced the novelty of worshiping on Sundays. But let us hear the testimony of St. Augustine, who (were the SDAs correct in their assertions) should testify that he once worshiped on Saturdays but does so no longer due to the papal decree; or he should at least make mention of this papal decree. Rather, he says:

The Lord’s day, however, has been made known not to the Jews, but to Christians, by the resurrection of the Lord, and from Him it began to have the festive character which is proper to it . . . [T]he sacramental import of the 8th number, as signifying the resurrection, was by no means concealed from the holy men of old who were filled with the spirit of prophecy. . . . [N]evertheless before the resurrection of the Lord, it was reserved and hidden, and the Sabbath alone was appointed to be observed, because before that event there was indeed the repose of the dead . . . but there was not any instance of the resurrection of one . . . over whom death should no longer have dominion; this being done in order that, from the time when such a resurrection did take place in the Lord’s own body . . . the day upon which He rose, the eighth day namely (which is the same with the first of the week), should begin to be observed as the Lord’s day . . . He had come . . . to declare the mystery of the day now known as the Lord’s day, the eighth namely, which is also the first of the week.[38]



We have seen how the Scriptures show that not all “perpetual” signs of the Old Covenant were carried over into the New; we have seen how the Gospel of St. John gives evidence for the Catholic view by presenting a risen Christ who appears to His ecclesia on Sundays; we saw how the practice of the early Church (as early as the Acts of the Apostles) was to “break bread” together on “the first day of the week”; finally, we saw that the unanimous testimony of the early Church Fathers is that the “Lord’s day” is Sunday; that all the Fathers understood the Resurrection to be the reason why Sunday was given special honor; that by the end of the Apostolic age, only the Jews kept the Sabbath, and Christians chose to fast on that day instead, lest they should be taken for Jews; and that all the Fathers understood that the prophets [Isaias explicitly] had foretold a day when the Jewish Sabbath would be abolished.

And so we end where we began; the process of discovering the truth, which takes us through many passages of Scripture and many books of the ancient Fathers, leads us to the same conclusion stated so succinctly in the Baltimore Catechism: “The Church commands us to keep Sunday as the Lord’s day because on Sunday Christ rose from the dead.”

Editor’s Note: The reader can benefit from the following lesson garnered from the teachings of St. Augustine: Before the Incarnation, the people of God looked forward to the coming of Christ, the great Event to come; thus it was appropriate to set aside the last day of the God-given cycle of the week for common worship. After the Incarnation this liturgical ‘anticipation’ would be senseless. Now, we members of the Church base our faith on the Event that has come to pass two thousand years ago. Therefore, we spend the days looking back on the first day of the week, the day of our new beginning, the day of the Sun, “the Orient on high hath visited us.” (Luke 1:78)

[1] Father Bennet, C.P., Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2 [Revised Edition] (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1962-1969), p. 134 (q. 281).

[2] Ibid., p. 118 (q. 235).

[3] D.M. Canright, Seventh-Day Adventism Refuted in a Nutshell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962), p. 43.

[4] For example, just a few blocks down the street from where I live, there stands “Abundant Life International Ministries,” headed by the “Apostle Arthur Bailey,” and advertising a “Saturday Sabbath” service.

[5] The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not even merit the title “professing Christians,” since they deny the divinity of Our Lord.

[6] George R. Knight, 1844 and the Rise of Sabbatarian Adventism (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1994), p. 144.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptural quotations are taken from the Douay-Rheims translation.

[8] Nota Bene: SDAs say that the Church “presumed to expunge from the law of God the second commandment, forbidding image worship, and to divide the tenth commandment, in order to preserve the number” (White, Controversy, p. 54); thus, when an SDA refers to the “fourth commandment,” he means the third commandment, according to the Catholic division, the command to “keep holy the Sabbath.”

[9] Ellen Gould White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan [Third Edition] (Pacific Press: Oakland, CA, 1886), pp. 54-55.

[10] White, Controversy, p. 57.

[11] Ibid., p. 279.

[12] Ibid., p. 281.

[13] Tract reproduced in full in Knight, 1844, p. 158.

[14] Knight, 1844, p. 161.

[15] Quoted in Canright, Refuted, p. 49.

[16] Quoted in Knight, 1844, p. 157.

[17] White, Controversy, p. 280, emphasis added.

[18] The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, cap. IV, emphasis added; unless otherwise noted, all quotes from the Church Fathers are taken from the Roberts and Donaldson edition of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, in ten volumes, online at The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/).

[19] For example, Michael Scheifler, in a response to me, wrote “The seventh day Saturday Sabbath was first kept at the end of creation week, and was inscribed by the hand of God in the stones of God’s Law, the Ten Commandments, and so is separate and distinct from the yearly festival Sabbaths that began with Israel’s release from Egypt on the first Passover, and were a part of the Mosaic ceremonial law.” (http://biblelight.net/CAI-sabbath.htm).

[20] Cf. Mt. 12:1-12, Mt. 24:20, Mt. 28:1, Mk. 1:21, Mk. 2:23-28, Mk. 3:2-4, Mk. 16:1-9, Lk. 4:16, Lk. 6:1-9, Lk. 13:10-16, Acts 13:14-44, Acts 15:21, Acts 16:13, etc. The sole exception is 1 Cor. 16:2, where sabbaton is rendered as “week.”

[21] Justin Taylor, “La Fraction Du Pain en Luc-Actes,” in J. Verheyden (ed.), The Unity of Luke-Acts (Leuven: Leuven University Press: Peeters, 1999), p. 293; original text: “ce geste est étroitement lié à la ‘mort’ et à la ‘résurrection’ d’Eutychus … Nous notons aussi l’imagerie de la nuit et de l’aurore, liée respectivement au moment négatif et au moment positif.” The translation is sufficiently rough that I must, unfortunately, take the blame for it myself.

[22] Epistle to the Magnesians, 9:1-2; J.B. Lightfoot translation, online at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-lightfoot.html

[23] Quoted in Knight, 1844, p. 159.

[24] In the Apocalypse, St. John writes to the “seven churches,” at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea; at the end of his life, while on his way to martyrdom in Rome, St. Ignatius also dispatched seven letters to seven churches, including the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia.

[25] Greek eucharistesate, from which we get our word “Eucharist.”

[26] The Didache, 14:1; J.B. Lightfoot translation, online at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-lightfoot.html

[27] Dialogue with Trypho, 26, (emphasis added).

[28] Ibid., 47. (emphasis added)

[29] The Epistle of Barnabas, 15. (emphasis added)

[30] Apology, 16. (emphasis added)

[31] Ibid., 21.

[32] An Answer to the Jews, 4.

[33] Epistle 58:4. (emphasis added)

[34] Apostolic Constitutions, Book II, Sec. VII, LIX.

[35] On the Creation of the World, par. 4. (emphasis added)

[36] Church History, Book I, cap. IV, 6-8. (emphasis added)

[37] Ibid., Book III, cap. XXVII, 5-6. (emphasis added)

[38] Letter 55, cap. 13. (emphasis added)