Did The Early Christians Observe a
Saturday Sabbath Until Constantine?

Dan Corner

Constantine Changed The Sabbath Hoax

Over the years, zealous Saturday Sabbatarians, especially Seventh Day Adventists (SDA), have contacted our ministry about early Christianity and their alleged observance of the Saturday Sabbath until it was changed by the Catholic church under Constantine in the fourth century. The following are actual emails we have received on this very issue:
The vast majority of Christian churches ignore the Sabbath commandment. Apparently a law was passed by Constantine of Rome in 325 A.D., which changed the worship day from Saturday to Sunday. His objective was to create religious peace between pagans and Christians and to pacify church leaders who wanted to separate themselves from the Jewish worshipers. Read Matt. 5:18


As a result of that discovery I joined the Seventh Day Adventists who recognize GOD's Sabbath.

A second email stated:
Historical accounts explain that to avoid persecution, some Christians began to worship on Sunday (Sun-day the day the pagans worshipped the sun god) using as their excuse that perhaps they could win over some of the pagans to their faith. The official changing was accomplished much later by the Roman Papacy. Here is a section from a Catholic catechism

"Question Have you any other way of proving that the Church has power to institute festivals of precept?"

"Answer Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her - she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday the seventh day, a change for which there is no Scriptural authority."

This article is especially dedicated to all truth-loving Saturday Sabbatarians who want to know the facts about this issue. While the Saturday Sabbatarians have offered no documentation for their alleged historical facts and teachings about the Sabbath, please notice that the following quotes are all fully documented for your close examination. You are encouraged to verify their authenticity for yourself. Sadly, too many people are told something and just quickly believe and spread it to others without testing it, like we are commanded to do (1 Thess. 5:17). May this not be the case anymore for the readers.

Here Is Why Messianic Judaism Is WRONG

The So-Called Fathers

To answer the SDA claim about the first several hundred years of early Christianity, I'm forced to quote sources outside the New Testament to settle this issue about the Saturday Sabbath observance up until Constantine. Before they are cited, please know that the writings of the so-called church "fathers" are not Scripture and must not be used as the final word or even a means whereby we learn the proper interpretation of the Scriptures, like some Protestants are wrongly doing. These so-called fathers, who wrote after the New Testament was finished, contradicted other so-called fathers and even the Holy Scriptures at times! Hence, the Christian is making a very serious mistake by considering their writings as the final word or supplementary Scriptural truth. But for this issue of the earliest Christians until the fourth century, these writing are the most weighty ones in existence, after the Scriptures, from which we can appeal and they will provide clear evidence on this subject.

Second Century Christianity

Justin Martyr, who lived at approximately 100 to 165 AD, wrote on this issue. He stated:
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, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all 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 Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.[1]

The Lord's Day = Sunday

Rev. 1:10 mentions the Lord's day, but what day of the week is it? Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, lived at about 117 AD and wrote the following:
During the Sabbath He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathaea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord's day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord's Day contains the resurrection.[2]

The celebration of the Lord's Day in memory of the resurrection of Christ dates undoubtedly from the apostolic age. Nothing short of apostolic precedent can account for the universal religious observance in the churches of the second century. There is no dissenting voice. This custom is confirmed by the testimonies of the earliest post-apostolic writers, as Barnabas, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr. It is also confirmed by the younger Pliny. The Didache calls the first day "the Lord's Day of the Lord."[3]

An Apostolic Precedent

Was there an apostolic precedent for the Christians to meet on Sunday instead of Saturday during the days of the original apostles? Doesn't the Bible say the New Testament Christians observed the Sabbath in obedience to the Saturday command (Lk.23:56)? Yes, but Lk. 23:56 was before Jesus' resurrection. Also, remember Rom. 14:5,6 allows for a choice of a special day to set apart as sacred to the Lord, unlike the Jewish Saturday Sabbath regulation given strictly to the Jews (Ex. 31:15-17; Ezek. 20:12,13).

Did Jesus Resurrect on Sunday?

I once spoke to an avid and authoritative Saturday Sabbatarian, who wrongly said Jesus really rose on Saturday and not on Sunday as commonly taught. He also insisted there is no Scripture to support such a view that he rose on Sunday. Notice the following Scripture:
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons (Mark 16:9).
Clearly, then, Jesus rose on Sunday, the first day of the week. Other Scriptures infer that Sunday was when Jesus rose from the dead because he was three days and three nights in the tomb. If we start counting from Friday, when he was crucified and buried, and count three days from that point we come to Sunday. Here is proof that Jesus died and was buried on Friday, the day before the Sabbath, known then as the day of Preparation:
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15:42-46)

Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:42)

It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 23:54-24:3)

Hence, Jesus died and was buried on the day before the Sabbath (on Friday) and rose three days later on Sunday. So the event of the resurrection of Christ, which is at the heart of the Christian gospel (Acts 2:31; 10:40; Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; etc.), occurred on Sunday.

What else happened on Sunday that was noteworthy? Jesus' post-resurrection appearances to his disciples occurred, at least in part, on Sunday:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." (Mat. 28:1-10)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:19-22).

Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; (Luke 24:12-15)

So Jesus appeared to the disciples on Sunday, when he resurrected. The early Christians also met on this day:
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. (1 Cor 16:2)

It is also interesting to note that the literal Greek for Sunday in Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; John 20:1; Acts 20:7and 1 Cor. 16:2 is sabbath.

So what did Constantine really do, which the SDA people have fallaciously distorted to promote their own doctrine?

Considering that the church was struggling into existence, and that a large number of Christians were slaves of heathen masters, we cannot expect an unbroken regularity of worship and a universal cessation of labor on Sunday until the civil government in the time of Constintine came to the help of the church and legalized (and in part even enforced) the observance of the Lord's Day.[4]
Hence, all Constantine did in 321 was legalize Sunday for worship and a time of rest for all people, even though Sunday had already been set apart for centuries from the time of the original apostles.
The universal and uncontradicted Sunday observance in the second century can only be explained by the fact that it had its roots in apostolic practice. Such observance is the more to be appreciated as it had no support in civil legislation before the age of Constantine, and must have been connected with many inconveniences, considering the lowly social condition of the majority of Christians and their dependence upon their heathen masters and employers.[5]
The fathers did not regard the Christian Sunday as a continuation of, but as a substitute for, the Jewish Sabbath, and based not so much on the fourth commandment, and the primitive rest of God in creation, to which the commandment expressly refers, as upon the resurrection of Christ and the apostolic tradition.[6]

She [the church] regarded Sunday as a sacred day, as the Day of the Lord, as the weekly commemoration of his resurrection and the pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, and therefore as a day of holy joy and thanksgiving to be celebrated even before the rising sun by prayer, praise, and communion with the risen Lord and Saviour.[7]

May no one be deceived any longer on this subject.

End Notes

[1] THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN, Chap. 67, pp. 354, 355.


[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), Vol. 2, pp. 201, 202.

[4] Ibid, p. 202.

[5] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, pp. 478, 479.

[6] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, p. 202.

[7] Ibid., p. 205.

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