Church of God, New World Ministries

Bible Q & A

Q. The Bible says Christ kept the Sabbath, so where does Sunday observance come from?
A. The popular observance of Sunday is primarily based on the mistaken belief that Christ was resurrected on Sunday. Because of this misconception, many people at one time observed both the Sabbath and Sunday. The following, from the erroneously labeled Apostolic Constitutions, clearly shows what some ecclesiastical authorities taught concerning the Sabbath and Sunday during the second and third centuries: “. Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbath day and the Lord’s day (Sunday) let them have leisure to go to church of instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is on account of the creation and the Lord’s day of the resurrection” (Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 7, p. 495). “. But keep the Sabbath and the Lord’s day festival, because the former is the memorial of the creation, and the latter of the resurrection: (pp. 496, 449).

In the fourth century, a further step was taken. The seventh-day Sabbath was relegated by men to virtual obscurity – no longer on an equal basis with Sunday. This change was legislated in A.D. 321, on the seventh of March. On this day an unusual edict was issued by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The edict is often designated as the earliest Sunday law. It read as follows: “On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain sowing or for vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost: (Codes Justinianus, lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; translated in History of the Christian Church, by Schaff, vol. III p. 380).

Then finally, in A.D. 365, it actually became illegal to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. A convention of ecclesiastical authorities was held in what is today the nation of Turkey. It was called the Council of Laodicea and was convened to settle, among other matters, the Sabbath question. One of its most famous canons was the twenty-ninth which read as follows: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather, honoring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. XIV, p.148).
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