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Barnabas - Pliny - Ignatius - The Church at Smyrna - The Epistle to Diognetus - Recognitions of Clement - Syriac Documents concerning Edessa


In his second chapter this writer speaks thus: 

“For he hath revealed to us by all the prophets that he needs neither sacrifices, nor burnt-offerings, nor oblations, saying thus, ‘What is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord? I am full of burnt-offerings, and desire not the fat of lambs, and the blood of bulls and goats, not when ye come to appear before me: for who hast required these things at your hands? Tread no more my courts, not though ye bring with you fine flour. Incense is a vain abomination unto me, and your new moons and Sabbaths I cannot endure.’ He has therefore abolished these things, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation.“

The writer may have intended to assert the abolition of the sacrifices only, as this was his special theme in this place. But he presently asserts the abolition of the Sabbath of the Lord. Here is his fifteenth chapter entire:

“Further, also, it is written concerning the Sabbath in the decalogue which [the Lord] spoke, face to face, to Moses on Mount Sinai, ‘And sanctify ye the Sabbath of the Lord with clean hands and a pure heart.’ And he says in another place, ‘If my sons keep the Sabbath, then will I cause my mercy to rest upon them.’ The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: ‘And God made in six days the works of his hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.’ Attend my children to the meaning of this expression, ‘He finished in six days.’ This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with him a thousand years. And he himself testifieth, saying, ‘Behold to-day will be as a thousand years.’ Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. ‘And he rested on the seventh day.’ This meaneth: when his Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day. Moreover, he says, ‘Thou shalt sanctify it with pure hands and a pure heart.’ If, therefore, any one can now sanctify the day which God hath sanctified, except he is pure in heart in all things, we are deceived. Behold, therefore: certainly then one properly resting sanctifies it, when we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first sanctified ourselves. Further, he says to them, ‘Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure.’ Ye perceive how he speaks; Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but that is which I have made [namely this], when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day, also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when he had manifested himself, he ascended into the heavens.“

Here are some very strange specimens of reasoning. The substance of what he says relative to the present observance of the Sabbath appears to be this: No one “can now sanctify the day which God hath sanctified except he is pure in heart in all things.“ But this cannot be the case until the present world shall pass away, “when we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first sanctified ourselves.“ Men cannot therefore keep the Sabbath while this wicked world lasts. And so he says, “Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me.“ That is to say, the keeping of the day which God has sanctified is not possible in such a wicked world. But though the seventh day cannot now be kept, the eighth day can be, and ought to be, because when the seventh thousand years are past there will be at the beginning of the eighth thousand the new creation. So the persons represented by this writer, do not attempt to keep the seventh day which God sanctified, for that is too pure to keep in this world, and can only be kept after the Saviour comes at the commencement of the seventh thousand years; but they “keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.“ Sunday, which God never sanctified, is exactly suitable for observance in the world as it now is. But the sanctified seventh day “we shall be able to sanctify“ when all things have been made new. If our first-day friends think these words of some unknown writer of the second century more honorable to the first day of the week than to the seventh, they are welcome to them. Had the writer said, “It is easier to keep Sunday than the Sabbath while the world is so wicked,“ he would have stated the truth. But when in substance he says, “It is more acceptable to God to keep a common than a sanctified day while men are so sinful,“ he excuses his disobedience by uttering a falsehood. Several things however should be noted:

In this quotation we have the reasons of a no-Sabbath man for keeping the festival of Sunday. It is not God’s commandment, for there was none for that festival; but the day God hallowed being too pure to keep while the world is so wicked, Sunday is therefore kept till the return of the Lord, and then the seventh day shall be truly sanctified by those who now regard it not.

But this writer, though saying what he is able in behalf of the first day of the week, applies to it no sacred name. He does not call it Christian Sabbath, nor Lord’s day, but simply “the eighth day,“ and this because it succeeds the seventh day of the week.

It is also to be noticed that he expressly dates the Sabbath from the creation.

The change of the Sabbath was unknown to this writer. He kept the Sunday festival, not because it was purer than the sanctified seventh day, but because the seventh day was too pure to keep while the world is so wicked.



Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia in the years 103 and 104. He wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan, in which he states what he had learned of the Christians as the result of examining them at his tribunal:

“They affirmed that the whole of their guilt or error was, that they met on a certain stated day [stato die], before it was light, and addressed themselves in a form of prayer to Christ, as to some God, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery; never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to eat in common a harmless meal.“ - Coleman’s Ancient Christianity, chap. i. sect. 1.

The letter of Pliny is often referred to as though it testified that the Christians of Bithynia celebrated the first day of the week. Yet such is by no means the case, as the reader can plainly see. Coleman says of it (page 528):

“This statement is evidence that these Christians kept a day as holy time, but whether it was the last or the first day of the week, does not appear.“

Such is the judgment of an able, candid, first-day church historian of good repute as a scholar. An anti-Sabbatarian writer of some repute speaks thus:

“As the Sabbath day appears to have been quite as commonly observed at this date as the Sun’s day (if not even more so), it is just as probable that this `stated day' referred to by Pliny was the seventh day, as that it was the first day; though the latter is generally taken for granted.“ - Obligation of the Sabbath, p. 300.

Every candid person must acknowledge that it is unjust to represent the letter of Pliny as testifying in behalf of the so-called Christian Sabbath. Next in order of time come the reputed epistles of Ignatius.




Of the fifteen epistles ascribed to Ignatius, eight are, by universal consent, accounted spurious; and eminent scholars have questioned the genuineness of the remaining seven. There are, however, two forms to these seven, a longer and a shorter, and while some doubt exists as to the shorter form, the longer form is by common consent ascribed to a later age than that of Ignatius. But the epistle to the Magnesians, which exists both in the longer and in the shorter form, is the one from which first-day writers obtain Ignatius’ testimony in behalf of Sunday, and they quote for this both these forms. We therefore give both. Here is the shorter:

“For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by his grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested himself by Jesus Christ his Son, who is his eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased him that sent him. If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung again by him and by his death - whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only master - how shall we be able to live apart from him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for him as their teacher? And therefore he whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead.” Chaps. viii. and ix.

This paragraph is the one out of which a part of a sentence is quoted to show that Ignatius testifies in behalf of the Lord’s-day festival, or Christian Sabbath. But the so-called Lord’s day is only brought in by means of a false translation. This is the decisive sentence: meketi sabbatizontes, alla kata kuriaken zoen zontes; literally: “no longer sabbatizing, but living according to the Lord’s life.”

Eminent first-day scholars have called attention to this fact, and have testified explicitly that the term Lord’s day has no right to appear in the translation; for the original is not kuriaken hemeran, Lord’s day, but kuriaken zoen, Lord’s life. This is absolutely decisive, and shows that something akin to fraud has to be used in order to find a reference in this place to the so-called Christian Sabbath.

But there is another fact quite as much to the point. The writer was not speaking of those then alive, but of the ancient prophets. This is proved by the opening and closing words of the above quotation, which first-day writers always omit. The so-called Lord’s day is inserted by a fraudulent translation; and now see what absurdity comes of it. The writer is speaking of the ancient prophets. If, therefore, the Sunday festival be inserted in this quotation from Ignatius he is made to declare that “the divinest prophets,” who “were brought up in the ancient order of things,” kept the first day and did not keep the Sabbath? Whereas, the truth is just the reverse of this. They certainly did keep the Sabbath, and did not keep the first day of the week. The writer speaks of the point when these men came “to the newness of hope,” which must be their individual conversion to God. They certainly did observe and enforce the Sabbath after this act of conversion. See Isa., chaps. 56, 58; Jer.17, Eze., chaps. 20, 22, 23. But they did also, as this writer truly affirms, live according to the Lord’s life. The sense of the writer respecting the prophets must therefore, be this: “No longer [after their conversion to God] observing the Sabbath [merely, as natural men] but living according to the Lord’s life,” or “according to Christ Jesus.”

So much for the shorter form of the epistle to the Magnesians. Though the longer form is by almost universal consent of scholars and critics pronounced the work of some centuries after the time of Ignatius, yet as a portion of this also is often given by the first-day writers to support Sunday, and given too as the words of Ignatius, we here present in full its reference to the first day of the week, and also the Sabbath, which they generally omit. Here are its statements:

“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness; for `he that does not work, let him not eat.' For, say the [holy] oracles, `In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread.' But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week]. Looking forward to this, the prophet declared, `To the end, for the eighth day,' on which our life both sprang up again, and the victory over death was obtained in Christ,” etc. Chapter ix.

This epistle, though the work of a later hand than that of Ignatius, is valuable for the light which it sheds upon the state of things when it was written. It gives us a correct idea of the progress of apostasy with respect to the Sabbath in the time of the writer. He speaks against Jewish superstition in the observance of the Sabbath, and condemns days of idleness as contrary to the declaration, “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat thy bread.” But by days of idleness, he cannot refer to the Sabbath, for this would be to make the fourth commandment clash with this text, whereas they must harmonize, inasmuch as they existed together during the former dispensation. Moreover, the Sabbath, though a day of abstinence from labor, is not a day of idleness, but of active participation in religious duties. He enjoins its observance after a spiritual manner. And after the Sabbath has been thus observed, “let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all the days.” The divine institution of the Sabbath was not yet done away, but the human institution of Sunday had become its equal, and was even commended above it. Not long after this, it took the whole ground, and the observance of the Sabbath was denounced as heretical and pernicious.

The reputed epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians in its shorter form does not allude to this subject. In its longer form, which is admitted to be the work of a later age than that of Ignatius, these expressions are found:

“During the Sabbath, he continued under the earth;” “at the dawning of the Lord’s day he arose from the dead;” “the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord’s day contains the resurrection.” Chap. ix.

In the epistle to the Philippians, which is universally acknowledged to be the work of a later person than Ignatius, it is said:

“If any one fasts on the Lord’s day or on the Sabbath, except on the paschal Sabbath only, he is a murderer of Christ.” Chap. xiii.

We have now given every allusion to the Sabbath and first-day that can be found in any writing attributed to Ignatius. We have seen that the term “Lord’s day” is not found in any sentence written by him. The first day is never called the Christian Sabbath, not even in the writings falsely attributed to him; nor is there in any of them a hint of the modern doctrine of the change of the Sabbath. Though falsely ascribed to Ignatius, and actually written in a later age, they are valuable in that they mark the progress of apostasy in the establishment of the Sunday festival. Moreover, they furnish conclusive evidence that the ancient Sabbath was retained for centuries in the so-called Catholic church, and that the Sunday festival was an institution entirely distinct from the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.




The epistle of Polycarp, makes no reference to the Sabbath nor to the first day of the week. But “The encyclical epistle of the church at Smyrna concerning the martyrdom of the holy Polycarp,"” informs us that “the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom” “on the great Sabbath at the eighth hour.” Chapter xxi. The margin says: “The great Sabbath is that before the passover."” This day, thus mentioned, is not Sunday, but is the ancient Sabbath of the Lord. 




This was written by an unknown author, and Diognetus himself is known only by name, no facts concerning him having come down to us. It dates from the first part of the second century. The writer speaks of “the superstition as respects the Sabbaths” which the Jews manifested, and he adds these words: “To speak falsely of God, as if he forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath days - how is not this impious?” But there is nothing in this to which a commandment-keeper would object, or which he might not freely utter.

The “Recognitions of Clement” is a kind of philosophical and theological romance. It purports to have been written by Clement of Rome, in the time of the apostle Peter, but was actually written “somewhere in the first half of the third century.”




In book i, chapter xxxv., he speaks of the giving of the law thus:

“Meantime they came to Mount Sinai, and thence the law was given to them with voices and sights from heaven, written in ten precepts, of which the first and greatest was that they should worship God himself alone,” etc. In book iii., chapter lv., he speaks of these precepts as tests: “On account of those, therefore, who by neglect of their own salvation please the evil one, and those who by study of their own profit seek to please the good One, ten things have been prescribed as a test to this present age, according to the number of the ten plagues which were brought upon Egypt.” In book ix., chapter xxviii., he says of the Hebrews, “that no child born among them is ever exposed, and that on every seventh day they all rest,” etc. In book x., chap. lxxii., is given the conversion of one Faustinianus by St. Peter. And it is said, “He proclaimed a fast to all the people, and on the next Lord’s day he baptized him.”

This is all that I find in this work relating to the Sabbath and the so-called Lord’s day. The writer held the ten commandments to be tests of character in the present dispensation. There is no reason to believe that he, or any other person in that age, held the Sunday festival as something to be observed in obedience to the fourth commandment.



On pages 35-55 of this work is given what purports to be “The Teaching of the Apostles.“ On page 36, the ascension of the Lord is said to have been upon the “first day of the week, and the end of the Pentecost.“ Two manifest falsehoods are here uttered; for the ascension was upon Thursday, and the Pentecost came ten days after the ascension. It is also said that the disciples came from Nazareth of Galilee to the mount of Olives on that selfsame day before the ascension, and yet that the ascension was “at the time of the early dawn.“ But Nazareth was distant from the mount of Olives at least sixty miles!

On page 38, a commandment from the apostles is given: “On the first [day] of the week, let there be service, and the reading of the holy Scriptures, and the oblation.“ because Christ arose on that day, was born on that day, ascended on that day, and will come again on that day.” But here is one truth, one falsehood, and two mere assertions. The apostles are represented, on page 39, as commanding a fast of forty days, and they add: “Then celebrate the day of the passion [Friday], and the day of the resurrection,“ Sunday. But this would be only an annual celebration of these days.

And on pages 38 and 39 they are also represented as commanding service to be held on the fourth and sixth days of the week. The Sabbath is not mentioned in these “Documents,“ which were written about the commencement of the fourth century, when, in many parts of the world, that day had ceased to be hallowed.


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