Did the apostles introduce worship to celebrate the resurrection?
Did the apostles introduce Sundaykeeping instead of Sabbath keeping commemorating Christ's resurrection by means of the Lord's Supper celebration? This view, though popular, is devoid of Biblical and historical support. The major reasons, briefly stated are the following.
The New Testament NEVER suggests or commands to celebrate Christ's resurrection by a weekly or annual Sunday celebration. This silence is noteworthy in view of the specific instructions given by Christ regarding such practices as baptism (Matt 28:19-20), the Lord's Supper (Mark 14:24-25; 1Corinthians 11:23-26) and footwashing (John 13:14-15).
If Jesus wanted observed the day of his resurrection as a day of rest and worship, would He not told the women and the disciples when He rose: "Come apart and celebrate My Resurrection?" Instead He told the women "Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee" (Matthew 28:10) and to the disciples "Go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them" (Matthew 28:19).
None of the utterances of the risen Savior reveals an intent to memorialize His resurrection by making Sunday the new day of rest and worship.
There is no New Testament reference to Sunday as "Day of the Resurrection" but rather to "First day of the week." The references to it as the day of the resurrection first appear in the early part of the fourth century (See, for example, Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Psalm 91, Patrologia Graeca 23, 1168; Apostolic Constitutions 2, 59, 3. For texts and discussion, see C.S. Mosna, Storia della Domenica, pp. 233-240.). By that time, Sunday had become associated with the resurrection.
What is the link to the Lord's Supper?
The very Lord's Supper which many Christians regard as the core of Sunday worship, initially was celebrated on different days of the week and commemorated Christ's sacrifice and Second Coming rather than His resurrection. Paul, for instance, who claims to transmit what "he received from the Lord" (1Corinthians 11:23), explicitly states that the rite commemorated not Christ's resurrection, but His sacrifice and Second Coming ("You proclaim the Lord's death till he comes" (1Corinthians 11:26)).
Similarly, the celebration of Passover, known today as Easter Sunday, during apostolic times occurred not on first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection, but on the fixed day of Nisan 14, primarily as a memorial of Christ's suffering and death.
The earliest explicit references to Sundaykeeping are in the writings of Barnabas (about 135 A.D.) and Justin Martyr (about 150 A.D.). Both writers do mention the resurrection as a basis for Sunday observance but only as the second of two reasons, important but not predominant. Barnabas' first theological motivation for Sundaykeeping is eschatological, namely, that Sunday as "the eight day" represents "the beginning of another world" (The Epistle of Barnabas 15, 8.). Justin's first reason for the Christians' Sunday assembly is the inauguration of creation: "because it is the first day on which God, transforming the darkness and prime matter, created the world." (Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67 )
The above indications suffice to discredit the claim that Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week caused the abandonment of the Sabbath and the adoption of Sunday. Initially, the celebration of the resurrection occurred existentially rather than liturgically, that is, by a victorious way of life rather than by a special day of worship.
Did the early church authorize a new day?
Many believe that Sundaykeeping began in Jerusalem by the authority of the apostolic church. This view rests on two incorrect assumptions. The first is that because the resurrection and appearance of Jesus occurred in Jerusalem on Sunday, the Apostles instituted it for worship to commemorate these events by a distinctive Christian liturgy. The second incorrect assumption is that the Apostles were encouraged by the fact that the earliest Christians in Jerusalem "no longer felt at home in the Jewish Sabbath service" (W. Rordorf, Sunday, p. 218; cf. C. S. Mosna, Storia della Domenica, p. 53.). The earliest documentary sources refute both these assumptions.
Regarding the first assumption, we saw earlier that nothing in the New Testament prescribes or even suggests the commemoration of Jesus' resurrection on Sunday. The very name "Day of the Resurrection" does not appear in Christian literature until early in the fourth century.
Regarding the second assumption, if the early Jerusalem Church had pioneered and promoted Sundaykeeping because they no longer felt at home with Jewish Sabbath keeping, we would expect to find in such a church an immediate break from Jewish religious traditions and services. Those who argue for an apostolic origin of Sunday observance make precisely this contention. However, the opposite is the case.
The book of Acts, as well as several Judeo-Christian documents, persuasively demonstrates that both the ethnic composition and the theological orientation of the Jerusalem Church were profoundly Jewish (For a concise survey of those works confirming the Jewish imprint of the Jerusalem Church, see B. Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision (Jerusalem: Imprimerie des P.P. Franciscains, 1971) pp. 70-78.). Luke's characterization of the Jerusalem Church as "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20), is an accurate description.
How attached was the Jerusalem church to God's law?
The attachment of the Jerusalem Church to the Mosaic Law is reflected in some of the decisions of the first Jerusalem Council held about 49 - 50 A.D. (See Acts 15). The exemption from circumcision is there granted only "to brethren who are of the Gentiles" (Acts 15:23). No concession exists for Jewish-Christians, who must continue to circumcise their children.
Moreover, of the four provisions made applicable by the Jerusalem Council to Gentiles, one is moral but three are ceremonial (even Gentile Christians are ordered to abstain "from contact with idols and from [eating] what has been strangled and from [eating] blood" (Acts 15:20). This concern of the Jerusalem Council for ritual defilement and Jewish food laws reflects its continued attachment to Jewish ceremonial law and its commands. It would be unthinkable that this Church at this early time would change the Sabbath to Sunday.
James' statement at the Jerusalem Council in support of his proposal to exempt Gentiles from circumcision but not from Mosaic laws in general, is also significant: "For generations past Moses has had spokesmen in every city; he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues" (Acts 15:21). All interpreters recognize that both in his proposal and in its justification, James reaffirms the binding nature of the Mosaic Law taught every Sabbath in the synagogue.
Did worship change after the temple's destruction?
The foregoing evidences has led some scholars to argue for the Palestinian origin of Sunday observance at a slightly later time, namely, after the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. (This hypothesis is advanced by Francis A. Regan, "Dies Dominica . ." p. 18.). They presume that the flight of the Christians from Jerusalem to Pella, as well as the psychological impact of the destruction of the Temple, weaned Palestinian Christians away from Jewish observances such as Sabbath keeping.
Both Eusebius and Epiphanius discredit this assumption. They inform us that the Jerusalem Church after 70 A.D., and until Hadrian's siege of Jerusalem in 135 A.D., was composed of and administered by converted Jews, characterized as "zealous to insist on the literal observance of the Law." (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 3, 27, 3; cf. 4, 5, 2-11; Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 70, 10, Patrologia Graeca 42, 355-356.). The orthodox Palestinian Jewish-Christian sect of the Nazarenes, who most scholars regard as Jerusalem’s "direct descendants of the primitive community” retained Sabbath keeping on Saturday until the fourth century (M. Simon, "La migration a Pella. Legende ou realite," Judeo-Christianisme, ed. Joseph Moingt (Paris: Recherches de science, 1972), p. 48.). This implies that Sabbath observance was not only the traditional custom of the Jerusalem Church, but also of Palestinian Jewish-Christians long after 70 A.D.
Of all the Christian Churches, the Jerusalem Church was both ethnically and theologically the closest and most loyal to Jewish religious traditions, and thus the least likely to change the day of the Sabbath.
Did the Roman Empire OUTLAW the Sabbath?
After 135 A.D., radical changes occurred in the Jewish world. In that year, the Roman Emperor Hadrian crushed the Second Jewish Revolt unsuccessfully led by Bar-Kokhba. Jerusalem became a Roman colony that excluded the Jews (and Jewish Christians). Hadrian renamed the city Aelia Capitolina and, more important still, he outlawed the practice of the Jewish religion in general and of Sabbath keeping in particular throughout the empire. (The rabbinic sources speak abundantly of the restrictions imposed during Hadrian's reign. The Talmud refers to it as "the age of persecution -shemad-," or "the age of the edict-gezerah" (cf. Shabbath 60a; S. Krauss, "Barkokba," Jewish Encyclopedia, 1907, II, p. 509).).
A whole body of Adversos Judaeos ("Against all Jews") literature began to appear at this time. Following the Roman lead, Christians developed a "Christian" theology of separation from and contempt toward the Jews. Castigated were characteristic Jewish customs such as circumcision and Sabbathkeeping.
There are indications the introduction of Sunday observance at this time occured as an attempt to emphasize to the Roman authorities the Christian distinction from Judaism.
Only by a church that had severed ties with Judaism was it possible to adopt and enforce new religious festivals such as Sundaykeeping. As we have seen, this excludes the Jerusalem Church prior to 135 A.D. After 135 A.D., the Jerusalem Church lost is religious prestige and went almost into oblivion, so it could hardly have pioneered such an important a change.
The most likely church for the source of this change is the Church of Rome. Here are the social, religious, and political conditions that permitted and encouraged the abandonment of Sabbathkeeping and the adoption of Sunday worship instead.
Was the church in Rome composed of GENTILES?
Contrary to most Eastern churches, the Church of Rome was predominantly composed of Gentile converts. Paul in his Epistle to this Church explicitly affirms: "I am speaking to you Gentiles" (Romans 11:13). (cf. Romans 1:13-15). The predominant Gentile membership apparently contributed to an early Christian differentiation from the Jews in Rome. In 64 A.D., for instance, Nero placed the charge of arson exclusively on Christians, thus distinguishing them from the Jews.
Imposed when the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66 A.D.) began, various repressive measures - military, political, and fiscal – came upon the Jews, especially as their resurgent nationalism resulted in violent uprisings in many places outside of Palestine. Militarily, Vespasian and Titus crushed the First Jewish Revolt; and Hadrian, the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.). Politically, Vespasian (69-79 A.D.) abolished the Sanhedrin and the office of the High Priest; later Hadrian outlawed the practice of Judaism altogether (ca. 135 A.D.). Fiscally, Jews were subject to a discriminatory tax (the fiscus judaicus) which, introduced by Vespasian, increased first by Domitian (81-96 A.D.) and later by Hadrian.
Indication is that these repressive measures were intensely experienced in Rome by the contemptuous anti-Jewish literary comments of such writers as Seneca (d. 65 A.D.), Persius (34-62 A.D.), Petronius (ca. 66 A.D.), Quintillian (ca. 35-100 A.D.), Martial (ca. 40-104 A.D.), Plutarch (ca. 46-119 A.D.), Juvenal (125 A.D.), and Tacitus (ca. 55-120 A.D.). They all lived in Rome most of their professional lives (For texts and comments, see From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 173-177). They revile the Jews racially and culturally, deriding Sabbathkeeping and circumcision as examples of Judaism's degrading superstitions.
The mounting hostility of the Roman populace against the Jews forced Titus, though "unwilling" (invitus), to ask the Jewess Berenice, sister of Herod the Younger, whom he wanted to marry, to leave Rome. These circumstances as well as the conflict between Jews and Christians apparently encouraged not only the production of a whole body of anti-Jewish literature in which a "Christian" theology of contempt for the Jews was developed, but also the repudiation of characteristic Jewish customs such as Sabbath keeping.
How did the church change to a new day?
The Church of Rome adopted concrete measures to wean Christians away from Sabbathkeeping and to encourage Sunday worship instead. Justin Martyr, for instance, writing in the mid-second century reduces the observance of the Sabbath to a temporary Mosaic ordinance that God imposed exclusively on the Jews as "a mark to single them out for punishment they so well deserve for their infidelities." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 23, 3).
This kind of negative reinterpretation of the Sabbath led Christians to transform their Sabbath observance from a day of feasting, joy, and religious celebration into a day of fasting, with no eucharistic celebration or religious assemblies permitted. (Pope Innocent I (402-417 A.D.) in his famous decretal established that on the Sabbath "one should not absolutely celebrate the sacraments" (Ad Decentium, Epist. 25, 4, 7, Patrologia Latina 20, 550)). The Saturday fast served not only to express sorrow for Christ's death, but also, as emphatically stated by Pope Sylvester (314-335 A.D.), to show "contempt for the Jews" (exsecratione Judaeorum) and for their Sabbath "feasting" (destructione ciborum). (S.R.E. Humbert, Adversus Graecorum calumnias 6, Patrologia Latina 143, 933.). The sadness and hunger resulting from the fast would enable Christians to avoid "appearing to observe the Sabbath with the Jews" (Victorinus of Pettau (ca. 304 A.D.), De Fabrica Mundi 5, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 49, 5.) and would encourage them to enter more eagerly and joyfully into the observance of Sunday.
Because the basic function of the Saturday fast was to discourage Sabbath keeping and to enhance Sunday worship, it seems likely that the Saturday fast and Sunday worship both originated contemporaneously and at the same place. There is no doubt the Church of Rome introduced the Saturday fast.
How does the origin of EASTER relate to Sunday worship?
The weekly Saturday fast developed as an extension or counterpart of the annual Holy Saturday of Easter season, when all Christians fasted. (Established is the connection between the two by several Fathers, see Tertullian, On Fasting 14; Augustine, Epistle to Casulanus 36, 34; cf. Rordorf, Sunday, p. 143.). The annual Holy-Saturday Easter fast, like the weekly Saturday fast, was designed to express not only sorrow for Christ's death but also contempt for those whom Christians considered its perpetrators, namely the Jews. (The Didascalia Apostolorum (ca. 250 A.D.) enjoins Christians to fast on Easter-Friday and Saturday. (14, 19, trans. H. Connolly [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929], p. 190); cf. Apostolic Constitutions 5, 18).
Moreover, since the weekly and the annual Saturday fasts, as well as the weekly Sunday observance and Easter Sunday, are frequently presented by the Church Fathers as interrelated in their meaning and function, presumably all these practices originated at the same time as part of the Easter celebration. (For a list of patristic testimonies treating the two feasts as being basically the same, see From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 204-205.). It is important, therefore, to ascertain the time, place, and causes of the origin of Easter, since this could well mark the genesis of Sunday observance as well.
In his account of the Easter controversy, Eusebius describes Bishop Victor of Rome (189-199 A.D.) as the champion of the Easter custom, and Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, as the defender of the Quartodeciman tradition. (Eusebius' account of the Easter controversy is in his Historia ecclesiastica 5, 23-24.). Quartodeciman means 14 and refers to the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, the date when Jews observe Passover.
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon intervened as peacemaker in the controversy. He urged Bishop Victor to emulate his predecessors, namely "Anicetus, Pius, Hyginus, Telesphoros, and Sixtus" who though they celebrated Easter on Sunday, nevertheless were at peace with those who observed it on the 14th of Nisan (Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 5, 24, 14.).
The fact that Irenaeus mentions Bishop Sixtus (ca. 116-126 A.D.) as the first bishop who did not observe the Quartodeciman Passover suggests the possibility that the feast began its celebration in Rome on Sunday at about that time. The motivation for the innovation could well have been by the desire to avoid Hadrian's repressive measures against Judaism.
This hypothesis is indirectly supported by Epiphanius' statement that the Easter controversy "arose after the time of the exodus of the bishops of the circumcision" from Jerusalem (Epiphanius, Adversus haereses 70, 9, Patrologia Graeca 42, 355-356). This exodus occurred after Hadrian crushed the Second Jewish Revolt in 135 A.D. Since Sixtus (ca. 116-126 A.D.) was Bishop of Rome only a few years earlier, he could well have been the initiator of Easter Sunday. A period must be allowed before a new custom becomes a sufficiently widespread to provoke a controversy.
What authority did the Church of Rome possess?
Another important consideration is that only in Rome was there the "preeminent authority" (potentior principalitas) (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3, 3, 1.) exercised by the Bishop of Rome - the only one capable at that time of influencing the majority of Christians to adopt new religious observances. Thus, it seems clear that Sunday observance originated in Rome in the early part of the second century (about 135 A.D.).
The social, political, and religious conditions mentioned above, explain why the change from Sabbath to Sunday. These do not explain, however, why another day such as Friday (the day of Christ's passion) did not become the Sabbath.
How did SUN worship influence the day to worship God?
The influence of sun worship with its "Sun-day" provides the most plausible explanation. The cult of Sol Invictus-the Invincible Sun-as shown by Gaston H. Halsberghe, became "dominant in Rome and in other parts of the Empire from the early part of the second century A.D." (The Cult of Sol Invictus (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), p. 26. The study is part of the series on Oriental Religions in the Roman Empire edited by the greatest authority on the subject, M.J. Vermaseren.).
We know that the Roman sun-cults influenced Christian thought and liturgy. The Church Fathers' frequently rebuke Christians for venerating the sun (A concise survey of the influence of astrological beliefs on early Christianity is provided by Jack Lindsay, Origin of Astrology (London: Muller, 1972), pp. 373-400). In early Christian art and literature, the sun is often used as a symbol to represent Christ (For examples of literary application of the motif of the sun to Christ see From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 253-254). The orientation of early Christian churches was changed; instead of facing Jerusalem like synagogues, churches were orientated to the East. (The Judeo-Christian sect of the Ebionites, who according to Irenaeus, “prayed toward Jerusalem as if it were the house of God.” evidences that primitive Christians prayed toward Jerusalem. (Adversus haereses 1, 26)). Chose was the dies natalis solis Invicti (the birthday of the Invincible Sun) as the Christian Christmas.
A second century change in the Roman calendar also suggests that Sun worship influenced the Christian adoption of Sunday as the new day of worship. The Roman Empire adopted the seven-day in the first century A.D. They named the days of the week after the planets. Saturn's day (Saturday) was the first day of the week, followed by Sun's day. Under the influence of the Sun worship, however, a change occurred in the second century: The Sun's day (Sunday) moved from the position of second day of the week to that of first and most important day of the week. (The evidence that the day of Saturn was originally the first day of the week come from the Indices Nundinarii and by the mural inscriptions found in Pompeii and Herculaneum where the days of the week are given horizontally starting with the day of Saturn. (For a source collection see A. Degrassi, Inscriptiones Italiae (Rome: Libreria Dello Stato, 1963), vol. XIII, pp. 49, 52, 53, 55, 56) This required each of the other days to move one day, and Saturn's day thereby became the seventh day of the week for the Romans, as it had been for the Jews and Christians.
The advancement of the day of the sun to the first and most important day of the week presumably influenced Roman Christians with a pagan background to adopt and adapt the Sun's day for their Christian worship. This would serve to emphasize to non-Christian Romans the Christian similarity to Roman practices and the dissimilarity to Jewish customs. All of this supports, indirectly, the suggestion that Sunday became the day for Christian worship because it was the Sun's day.
A more direct indication comes by the use of the sun as a symbol to justify the actual observance of Sunday. The motifs of light and of the sun invoked by the Church Fathers develop a theological justification for using the day for worship. God's creation of light on the first day and the resurrection of the Sun of Justice, which occurred on the same day, coincided with the day of the sun. Jerome, to cite only one example, explains:
"If it is called the day of the sun by the pagans, we most willingly acknowledge it as such, since it is on this day that the light of the world appeared and on this day the Sun of Justice has risen." (In die dominica Paschae homilia, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 78, 550, 1, 52; the same in Justin Martyr, I Apology 67; Eusebius, Commentaria in Psalmos 91, Patrologia Graeca 23, 1169-1172; Maximus of Turin, Homilia 61, Patrologia Latina 57, 371; Augustine, Sermo 226, Patrologia Latina 38, 1099.)
The day of the Sun, then, may well have been viewed by Christians familiar with its veneration, as a providential and valid substitution for the seventh day sabbath, since the substitution could well explain Biblical mysteries to the pagan mind by means of effective and familiar symbols. (In his Commentary on Psalm 91, Eusebius (ca. 260-340 A.D.) writes "It is on this day [Sunday] of the creation of the world that God said: 'Let there be light and there was light.' It is also on this day that the Sun of Justice has risen for our souls" (Patrologia Graeca 23, 1169-1172)).
Both anti-Judaism and Sun worship contributed to the change from Sabbath to Sunday. Anti-Judaism led many Christians to abandon the observance of the Sabbath to differentiate themselves from the Jews at a time when the Roman Empire outlawed Judaism in general and Sabbath keeping in particular. Sun worship influenced the adoption of the observance of Sunday to facilitate the Christian identification and integration with the customs and cycles of the Roman empire.
The change from Sabbath to Sunday was not simply one of names or numbers, but of authority, meaning, and experience. It was a change from a holy day divinely established to enable us to experience more freely and more fully the awareness of divine presence and peace in our lives, into a holiday that has become an occasion to seek for personal pleasure and profit. This historical change has greatly affected the quality of Christian life of countless Christians deprived throughout the centuries of the physical, moral, and spiritual renewal the Sabbath provides. Needed today is the recovery of the Sabbath when our souls, fragmented, penetrated and desiccated by a cacophonous, tension-filled culture, cry out for the release and realignment that awaits us on the Sabbath Day.