The Popeís Letter
The Lordís Day ó as Sunday was called from
Apostolic Times." Thus commences Pope John Paul IIís Apostolic
Letter, Dies Domini, issued July 7, 1998. The Pope provides a
reference in order to document his initial assertion. His reference is
Revelation 1:10. This Scriptural passage states:
I [John] was in the Spirit on the Lordís day, and
heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.
It will be seen that this verse of Scripture, while
mentioning the Lordís Day, does not in any particular indicate which
day of the week is the Lordís Day. One may read the context of the
Biblical passage, and he will find no elucidation of the term. Since the
term, "the Lordís Day" occurs nowhere else in Scripture, it
will not assist us to seek another reference containing the term
"Lordís Day" in order to enable us to discover the Biblical
meaning of the term.
Yet the only safe ground for a sincere student of the
Bible is to permit the Bible to interpret itself. God in His goodness
has not left this matter in doubt. In clear, unequivocal terms He has
revealed to us which day is the Lordís Day. The New Testament
specifies the day which is the Lordís Day in two passages of
For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day
And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord
also of the sabbath (Luke 6:5).
Plainly the Sabbath day is the Lordís Day.
The Bible itself has cited this fact. But a new question arises: Which
day is the Sabbath? The context of these two texts reveals that the Jews
were accusing the disciples of sabbathbreaking in that they rubbed ears
of corn in their hands. Clearly the day referred to was the day the Jews
identified as the Sabbath.
If we are sincere searchers for Biblical truth, then
we must permit the Scripture to identify the day which the Jews hallowed
as the Sabbath. Once more the Bible is specific. Jesus was crucified on
the day which many Christians designate as Good Friday. The Jews named
that day the preparation day. Speaking of the day of Christís death,
And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath
drew on (Luke 23:54).
Thus the Sabbath day of the Jews was the day after
This fact is confirmed in Matthewís account of the
resurrection which occurred on the day many Christians, including Roman
Catholics, uphold as Easter Sunday. Matthew repeated Mary Magdaleneís
visit to the empty tomb thus:
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn
toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other
Mary to see the sepulchre (Matthew 28:1).
Manifestly the Sabbath day upon which the Jews
worshipped was the day between Friday and Sunday. That day was Saturday.
Therefore, as we review Matthew 12:8 and Luke 6:5
quoted above, we are compelled to conclude that the Lordís Day,
plainly identified in Scripture, is Saturday, the seventh day of the
week. This causes no surprise, for the fourth commandment, written with
Godís own hand plainly states:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days
shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the
sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work,
thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy
maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy
gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and
all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord
blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11, emphasis
So God, Himself, designated Saturday, the seventh day
of the week, as the Lordís Day. Thus Revelation 1:10 is simply stating
that John was in vision on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. The
Bible, therefore, testifies that the Popeís initial statement is an
incredible lapse from sound scholarship.
The initial statement in the Popeís Apostolic
Letter also reveals a remarkable alteration in the position of the Roman
Catholic stance on Sunday worship. Unlike some Protestants who have
sought to uphold Sunday-sanctity on the basis of apostolic tradition,
this has not been the practice of Roman Catholics. Let us review two
authoritative statements of the Roman Catholic Church.
The first states:
Which is the Sabbath day? Answer ó Saturday is the Sabbath
day. Question ó Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
Answer ó We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because
the Catholic church, in the Council of Laodicea (364 A.D.) transferred
the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday (Peter Geiermann [a Roman
Catholic priest], The Convertís Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, second
edition, p. 50).
The Roman Catholic Mirror emphatically discovered no
Biblical evidence for the substitution of Sunday for Saturday for
[We have] disposed of every text to be found in the
New Testament referring to the Sabbath (Saturday), and to the first
day of the week (Sunday); and [here] shown conclusively from these
texts, that, so far, not a shadow of pretext can be found in the
Sacred Volume for the Biblical substitution of Sunday for Saturday.
Catholic Mirror, Sept. 16, 1893
Here we see that the Roman Catholic Church has long
claimed that it altered the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday in the year
336 A.D. That was certainly not apostolic times, as the Pope
states in his Apostolic Letter. Almost two-and-a-half centuries had
passed since the death of the last apostle until the Council of Laodicea
convened. Millions of Roman Catholics have in their possession
catechisms which assent that the Council altered the day of
worship and not the apostles. These Catholics must be confused by the
Popeís latest declaration on the matter. Strange indeed is this
altered claim for a church which is reputed never to have changed.
A second catechism, approved by the Roman Catholic
Church and authored by a priest, also raises questions concerning the
commencement of the Popeís Apostolic Letter, for it would seem that
the Pope is shrinking from the ecclesiastical authority which Roman
Catholics have based upon the churchís ability to alter the day of
worship. This catechism states:
you have any other way of proving that the church has power to
institute festivals and precepts? Answer: Had she not such
power she could not have done that 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, a change for
which there is no Scriptural authority (Stephen Keenan, A Doctrinal
Stephen Keenan correctly states that there is no
Scriptural authority for Sunday observance. It would have been strange
indeed if Sunday was the new Lordís Day and that not one of the eight
authors of the New Testament stated this as a fact. It would have been
an incredible oversight in the 260 chapters of the New Testament that no
mention of such a dramatic alteration was provided.
Indeed, the author of Revelation, the apostle John,
the only Bible writer to use the term, "the Lordís Day"
(Revelation 1:10), mentioned Sunday twice in his gospel (John 20:1;
20:19). Both these verses refer to the day of Christís resurrection.
Surely if ever there was a time to call the first day of he week the
Lordís Day, if it were appropriate, then this was the day. But John
chose not to do so. Why? Because he well knew that the Lordís day was
the Sabbath. Remember, John wrote his gospel between 80 Ė 90 A.D. If
it had been his habit for 50 Ė 60 years after Jesusí death to
address the Sunday as "the Lordís Day" he certainly would
have used this term in his gospel.
In corroboration of A Doctrinal Catechism, The
Catholic Mirror, which was the official Catholic newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, USA, over which the eminent Cardinal
Gibbons presided, stated,
The Catholic Church for over one thousand years
before the existence of a Protestant, by virtue of her divine mission,
changed the day from Saturday to Sunday." (1893, p. 29)
In fact, a few Christians in the mid-second century
had adopted the pagan day of the Roman Empire in order to escape
confusion with Jews during periods of anti-Semitism in the Roman Empire.
Justin Martyr in 155 was the first to mention this practice, but it was
not a general practice in Christendom and was based upon fear of
persecution, not Scriptural mandate.
The Catholic Mirror states its conclusion
Hence the conclusion is inevitable; viz., that of
those who follow the Bible as their guide, the Israelites and
Seventh-day Adventists, have the exclusive weight of evidence on their
side, whilst the Biblical Protestant has not a word in self-defence
for his substitution of Sunday for Saturday. Catholic Mirror,
Sept. 9, 1893.
We must remember that every book of the New Testament
was written decades after the death of Jesus. Eight times the first day
of the week (Sunday) is mentioned (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1;
John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Not once is it referred to
as the Lordís Day. Not once! The first six of these texts simply state
that Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. The passage in 1 Corinthians
merely admonishes the Christians to gather their offerings on Sunday.
Many Protestants, seeking to escape the Roman
Catholic taunt that the acceptance of Sunday sacredness is an implied
acceptance of the claimed papal authority to institute ecclesiastical
festivals and precepts (laws) not found in Scripture, grasp at Acts 20:7
as the Biblical support of their Sunday worship.
Let us examine this passage of Scripture:
And upon the first day of the week, when the
disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready
to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight (Acts
There is no question that the believers met on
Sunday. Unquestionably they "broke bread" on the Sunday. This
fact has frequently been used as evidence that a communion service was
held and thus Sunday must have been held sacred by Paul and the
believers at Troas. This matter merits investigation.
Paul, the biblical record states, "continued his
speech until midnight" (Acts 20:7). At about this time a tragedy
occurred when a young man, Eutychus, fell asleep and fell from the
window of the third loft and was killed (v. 9). Paul went downstairs
and, through the power of God, Eutychus was restored to life (v. 10).
Undoubtedly this procedure took some minutes, and it was the very early
hours of the second day of the week (Monday) when Paul returned upstairs
to the room where he had been preaching. It is pertinent to the matter
under discussion to record that which occurred on that early Monday
When he therefore was come up again, and had broken
bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so
he departed (Acts 20: 11).
Thus Scripture testifies that Paul "had broken
bread" on Monday morning. Yet no Christian uses this fact to
support Monday sacredness. The fact that bread was broken also on Monday
morning seriously diminishes the use of Acts 20:7 as evidence of Sunday
But this is not all. What does the term "to
break bread" mean? Once more Scripture comes to our aid as its own
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the
temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat
with gladness and singleness of heart (Acts 2:46).
Notice what this text reveals. Firstly, the early
Christians, filled with the power of Pentecost, broke bread daily. So
whatever the term "to break bread" meant, it provides
absolutely no basis for selecting one of the seven days of the week as
the special day of worship, for bread was broken on all days of the
Secondly, we have in this passage, clear evidence of
the Biblical meaning of the term "to break bread." In other
Scripture verses, this meaning includes the participation in the
communion service. But plainly, this Scripture states, in qualifying
this breaking of bread, that "they did eat their meat with gladness
and singleness of heart." The word "meat" as used in the
17th and 18th centuries simply meant "food."
But there is yet another matter that requires our
attention as we seek to understand this matter. If the day upon which
the communion service was conducted indicated the timing of Sabbath
observance, then surely we would follow Christís example and keep holy
the day on which He instituted this ordinance. Since the first Lordís
Supper was held on the evening before Christís crucifixion, such a
concept would lead us to observe Thursday as our day of worship. No
Christian follows such an absurdity.
Thus Acts 20:7 as a valid support for Sunday
sacredness falls on three counts ó 1) the breaking of bread was a
daily matter; 2) the Scriptural meaning of the term was to enjoy a meal;
and 3) Christ instituted the Lordís Supper on a Thursday evening. In
citing these three irrefutable facts, we have not mentioned that the
Jewish day commenced, not at midnight, but at sunset. Thus long before
midnight, by Jewish (and Scriptural) reckoning, Paul had been preaching
on the second day of the week, Monday. Manifestly, the use of Acts 20:7
does not present a strong case for Sunday sacredness and, indeed, is
quite invalid as a Scriptural argument for Sunday observance.*
Once more, we would remind each reader that at no
time do the Biblical writers refer to the first day of the week as the
Lordís Day. Constantly they refer to the Sabbath, never once referring
to it as the former Sabbath or in any other way indicating that the
seventh day of the week no longer held validity as Godís holy day.
That would be remarkable if Christís death altered His law since, as
we have stated, every book of the New Testament was written decades
after Christís death. Indeed, the seventh-day Sabbath is mentioned in
the New Testament no less than 60 times.
In the second paragraph of his Apostolic Letter, the
Pope further makes an assertion which no doubt has proven puzzling to
many readers. He states,
Rightly, then, the Psalmistís cry is applied to
Sunday: Ď This is the day which the Lord has made: let us rejoice
and be glad in ití (Psalms 118:24).
Children still in elementary school, if raised in a
Christian or Jewish home, will know that the Jewish nation observed
Saturday, the seventh day specified in Godís Law, as their sacred day.
There can be no question whatsoever that the psalmist in this verse of
his ancient Hebrew hymn is referring to Saturday. This passage can in no
way be rightly applied to Sunday. To do so is to wrest the Scriptures.
Thus the Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini,
commences in such a fashion that one is left questioning the care with
which it has been prepared. This is the more surprising when we consider
that there is no doubt whatsoever that some of the highest intellects in
the Roman Catholic Church and in the Vatican would have assisted the
Pope in the preparation of this letter.
This matter is not ameliorated by the fact that in
his fifth paragraph, the Pope makes another false claim. He states that
"the fundamental importance of Sunday has been recognized through
two thousand years of history." If, as The Convertís Catechism
of Catholic Doctrine asserts, the Catholic church, in the Council of
Laodicea (336 A.D.) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday
then the very longest period Sunday has been recognized as the Sabbath
is 1663 years (at the date of publication of this book). Even this
period is confined largely to the Roman Catholic Church. As Benjamin
Wilkinson, in his classic work, Truth Triumphant, documents, the
seventh-day Sabbath was upheld in Scotland until 1206, in India until
the 16th century, Ethiopia until the 17th century, in Eastern Europe
until the 16th century, and in China at least to the 14th century.
In 1956, the book, The Faith of Millions was
published and sold in Catholic bookstores. It asserted (page 473) that
Ösince Saturday, and not Sunday, is specified in
the Bible, isnít it curious that non-Catholics who profess to take
their religion directly from the Bible and not from the church,
observe Sunday instead of Saturday.
In December 1893, the eminent American Cardinal,
Archbishop Gibbons, asserted that there were just two alternatives in
this matter. Either one accepts the Bible as the basis of oneís faith,
a position accepted by Protestantism, and thus keep Saturday holy, or
accept the Catholic dogma of the authority of the church, and thus
worship on Sunday.
Cardinal Gibbonsí claim is valid. Numerous
Protestant authorities concur that Saturday is the true Sabbath and that
there is no apostolic or Biblical basis for Sunday observance. It is
prudent that we document a selection of these sources. Emphasis
There was and is a commandment to keep holy the
Sabbath day, but that Sabbath Day was not Sunday. It will be said,
however, and with some show of triumph, that the Sabbath was
transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week.ÖWhere can
the record of such a transaction be found? Not in the New Testament
ó absolutely not.ÖOf course, I quite well know that Sunday did
come into use in early Christian history as a religious day, as we
learn from the Christian Fathers, and other sources. But WHAT A PITY
that it comes branded with the mark of paganism, and christened with
the name of the sun god, when adopted and sanctioned by the papal
apostasy, and bequeathed as a sacred legacy to Protestantism! ó Dr.
Edward T. Hiscox (author of the Baptist Manual), Source Book,
Centuries of the Christian era passed away before
Sunday was observed by the Christian church as the Sabbath. History
does not furnish us with a SINGLE PROOF or INDICATION that it was AT
ANY TIME so observed previous to the Sabbatical edict of Constantine
in 321 A.D. ó Sir William Domville, of the Church of England,
The Sabbath or An Examination of the Six Texts, p. 291.
So some have tried to build the observance of
Sunday upon apostolic command, whereas the apostles gave no command on
the matter.ÖThe truth is, as soon as we appeal to the ĎLitera
scriptaí (the literal writing) of the Bible, the Sabbatarians have
the best of the argument. ó The Presbyterian At Work,
editorial, April 19, 1883.
It is true, there is no positive command for infant
baptismÖnor is there any for keeping the first day of the week. ó
The Methodist Theological Compendium.
It is quite clear that however rigidly or devotedly
we may spend Sunday, we are not keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was
founded on a specific, divine command. We can plead no such command
for the observance of Sunday.ÖThere is not a single line in the New
Testament to suggest that we incur any penalty by violating the
supposed sanctity of Sunday. ó Dr. W. R. Dale (Congregational),
The Ten Commandments, pp. 106,107.
The observance of the Lordís day (Sunday) is
founded not on any command of God, but on the authority of the church.
ó Augsburg Confession of Faith (Lutheran).
The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals,
was always only a human ordinance, and it was far from the intentions
of the apostles to establish a divine command in this respect, far
from them and from the early apostolic church to transfer the laws of
the Sabbath to Sunday. ó Johann Neander (Episcopalian), General
History of the Christian Religion and Church, p. 186.
Why then has the Pope adopted a novel approach in
attempting to vindicate Sunday observance, not from church authority,
but rather from Scripture? Only he and perhaps his inner circle of
counselors could explain this remarkable alteration of course. It surely
is unnecessary for faithful Roman Catholics. They have already accepted
papal authority to alter and enact ecclesiastical festivals and laws,
without Scriptural warrant. Perhaps the Pope sees in the increasing
clamor for Sunday laws amongst Evangelical Protestants, that now is the
time to woo them to his cause by presenting his call for similar laws
upon grounds which will appeal to these Protestants by claiming to
appeal to holy writ.
Whatever the Popeís motive is, he has placed his
own church in a frightful dilemma. Only time will tell how he or his
successor will attempt to extricate the Roman Catholic Church from this
While ever the Papacy asserted the fact that the
seventh-day Sabbath was observed in apostolic times, and that this
practice continued even in the western Christian Church until the fourth
century, it was possible to claim papal authority for the churchís
alteration. Sunday worship was declared to be the mark of that
authority. By appealing to Scripture and apostolic practice, the Pope
has forfeited that claimed authority and vested that authority in
Scripture. But since Scripture does not support his claim, he has led
the Roman Catholic Church into a theological quagmire. As numerous Roman
Catholic leaders have correctly claimed, there is no Biblical basis for
Sunday observance, absolutely none! Therefore the Pope has placed the
sacred observance of Sunday upon an extremely weak platform. He has
opened a door to demonstrate the vulnerability of the Christian churchesí
position on this matter, for in truth, Sunday observance, as the author
of the Baptist Manual, Dr. Edward Hiscox, stated, is based upon
no better principle than
Öit comes branded with the mark of paganism,
christened with the name of the sun god, when adopted and sanctioned
by papal apostasy, and bequeathed as a sacred legacy to Protestantism
(Source Book, p. 514).
While scattered instances of Christians worshipping
on the pagan day of the sun in order to escape persecution engineered by
the mistaken concept that they were Jewish have been documented,
Sabbathkeeping was generally upheld until the conversion of Constantine,
Emperor of the Roman Empire in 321 A.D. The depth of his conversion from
paganism is not for us to judge. Suffice it to record that he advocated,
after his conversion, that the day of the sun, Sunday, be observed.
The Pope cannot simultaneously hold two mutually
exclusive positions. Sunday sanctity has for centuries been the pillar
of the Roman Catholic Churchís claim to ecclesiastical authority. This
claim has ever been based upon the fact that the Bible contains no
mandate for Sunday observance. It has been Romeís stated position that
had she no 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, a change for which there is no Scriptural
authority (Stephen Keenan, A Doctrinal Catechism).
Either the Papacy has to renounce its usurped
ecclesiastical authority and support its new claim to discover a
Biblical basis for Sunday observance, or it must continue to assert its
supreme authority in matters ecclesiastical and admit that Sunday
worship is its own invention, devoid of Scriptural confirmation.
As we have demonstrated, the Popeís Apostolic
Letter provides a faulted introduction to his new approach, and the
remainder of the letter fares no better.
If the Roman Catholic Church resorts to its former
position that Scripture provides no basis for Sunday observance and that
it was not practiced or advocated in apostolic times, then the man it
claims to be its first pontiff, the apostle Peter, did not share the
practice nor exert the authority usurped by subsequent popes.
The Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, has placed
the Roman Catholic Church in a most difficult position.