Hebrew Roots/Neglected Commandments/Sabbath/Apologetics/History

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THE HISTORICAL OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH

Y'shua Kept the Sabbath It is evident that the seventh day Sabbath was the universally recognized day of rest and worship among all Jews when Y'shua came on the scene and it was His custom, His ethos, to attend synagogue on the Sabbath which we call Saturday.

"And He taught in their synagogues (in Galilee), being glorified of all." Luke 4:15

"So He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read." Luke 4:16 (this was when Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled).

"Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught." Mark 1:21

Y'shua customarily kept the Sabbath. He taught in synagogues and explained that the Sabbath was not supposed to be a burden, but rather a blessing. Because the Jews recognized that Jerusalem had been destroyed and their ancestors carried into captivity for Sabbath breaking, some built a hedge of rules around the Sabbath which tried to dictate its observance in minute detail. They made the strict keeping of the Sabbath according to their rules more important than the well-being of human beings: Y'shua constantly clashed with the religious leaders on account of this as He did the Father's will and implemented the Sabbath in the right context and not according to the legalistic interpretation of the Pharisees.

At one time Y'shua went through the grainfields on the Sabbath and His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they rebuked Him, and He responded by likening their actions to the example of David when he ate the showbread, as being blameless because of their need, and also in relation to the fact that the priests "profane" the Sabbath, and are blameless according to the law.

He reproved them for their legalistic and unmerciful attitude toward those in need, saying that it was "lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (v.12) and that He was "Lord of the Sabbath" (v.8) Matthew 12:1-13

Also when healing the woman with an infirmity He recited how they would even save an animal if necessary on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10), and again with the man with dropsy (Luke14:1) The religious leaders took great offence at Him for He not only broke the Sabbath according to their tradition, but also said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18; 7:23, 24

Although some of the Pharisees accused him of breaking the Sabbath (John 5:18; 9:16), He was in fact showing that the Sabbath should be kept, but in a different way than the Jews had been taught. Y'shua upheld the sanctity of the Sabbath and expanded upon the way it should be observed.

Sabbath-Keeping in the Early Assembly It was obvious that those who followed Y'shua and had received His teaching kept the Sabbath. This is evident in the women waiting until the Sabbath had passed before going to the tomb (Luke 23:55; Mark 15:47- 16:2) Paul and Barnabas when they set off on their ministry together went to the synagogues on the Sabbath day to preach the Word. (Acts 13:14) . . . "And when the Jews went out of the synagogue (rejecting the Word), the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. .. .. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God" in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:42, 44)

The Scriptures above show without a doubt that Paul and Barnabas continued to keep the Sabbath and assemble on it to worship and teach about Y'shua. After preaching the risen Messiah to the Jews and Gentile proselytes in the synagogue, they spoke to those who had believed their message after the Sabbath service ended. The Gentiles, in particular, begged that more of this good news be preached to them.

If Sunday had replaced the Sabbath as the day for Christian fellowship and worship, Paul would have undoubtedly told the Gentiles that there was no need to wait until the next Sabbath to gather together to hear the gospel. Instead he met with them on the next Sabbath.

The example that Y'shua set was customary worship on the Sabbath day, in obedience to the commandments of God. This was what Paul and the other disciples of Y'shua also did. The book of Acts shows several more examples of Sabbath observance: Acts 16:13 in Phillipi; Acts 17:1-2 in Thessalonica; Acts 18:1-4

The scriptures show that Paul and the other disciples of Y'shua continued to keep the Sabbath after Messiah's death and resurrection. Nowhere in the New Testament is the commandment to observe the Sabbath negated. Instead, the New Testament shows that the Sabbath was still kept by the early believers. There is no other command regarding another mandated day of worship. Such a change could not have been made without it being recorded in the scriptures. The first Believers in Y'shua were loyal Jews. They worshiped daily in the Temple at Jerusalem; they attended services in the synagogue; they revered the Torah. Paul is recorded in the book of Acts as having, for all of his life, the habit of observing the Sabbath. In the early years of the faith, the early assembly appeared to be nothing more than another Jewish sect. They not only observed the same Sabbath as the Jews, they observed the same holidays. They planned their travel according to the Jewish calendar. (Acts 20:4-6) They still observed the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; they also continued to keep the weekly Sabbath and the Mosaic regulations concerning food. Paul also gives instruction to the assembly at Colossae regarding their observance of the festivals (Col. 2:16-18)

From the beginning of the New Testament all the way through the 12th chapter of Acts, the Church was composed entirely of Jews and circumcised proselytes. And there is not a word of any major change in practice during this entire time. For example, when Paul went hunting for Christians to arrest, he went to the synagogues to find them. (Acts 9:1-2; 22:17- 19) The Gentile believers in Damascus didn't have a 'church' of their own. They were still in the synagogues and if they were still attending synagogue, they were still keeping the Sabbath.

First Century Changes Acts 18: "After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them."

In the year A.D. 49 the Emperor Claudius ... expelled the Jews from Rome since they rioted constantly at the instigation of Chrestus (a probable erroneous transcription of the name of Christ). The fact that on this occasion converted Jews like Aquila and Priscilla were expelled from the city together with the Jews (Acts 18:2) proves, as Pierre Batiffol observes, "that the Roman police had not yet come to distinguish the Christians from the Jews. Fourteen years later, however, Nero identified the Christians as being a separate entity, well distinguished from the Jews.

By this time, 'Christianity' in Rome was taking on a rather different cast from 'Christianity' in the east, particularly in Palestine. The political structure of Rome gave both Jews and Gentiles good reason to separate themselves from one another, something that had not happened elsewhere. This suggests the possibility that the abandonment of the Sabbath and adoption of Sunday as a new day of worship may have occurred first in Rome as a part of this process of differentiation from Judaism. (Sam Bacchiocchi's , "From Sabbath to Sunday." (pp. 167ff, 169.)

During the first century, Messianic Hebrews (believers) continued the practice of observing the Seventh day of the week. Many first century Jewish (non-Messianic) sources speak of the “Nazarenes” or “Ebionites” (Ebionites which was a term non-believing Hebrews called those who believed in Y'shua at that time) whether Gentile or Hebrew, as observing forms of worship almost identical to their own, with the only distinctive difference being the teaching that Y'shua is the Messiah.

The Nazarene movement observed the seventh day Sabbath, not Sunday. It was only in the 2nd century C.E., under the pressure of a strongly anti-Jewish, anti-nomian, pagan sentiment which had developed in the Western churches, that “Christians” substituted Sunday for the Sabbath and began to lose touch with the Judaic or Torah roots of the Nazarene faith. This has all been carefully documented by recent scholars.

Toward the end of the first century, relations between the Jews and the Roman Empire had deteriorated drastically. The Romans had previously recognized Judaism as a legitimate religion and had even shown a level of respect and even admiration for the religious principles of the Jews. But the Jewish wars that began from 66 - 135 A.D. changed all that.

Militarily, the statistic of bloodshed as provided by contemporary historians, even allowing for possible exaggerations, is a most impressive evidence of the Romans's angry vengeance upon the Jews. Tacitus (ca. A.D. 33-120), for instance, gives an estimate of 600,000 Jewish fatalities for the A.D. 70 war. . . Besides military measures, Rome at this time adopted new political and fiscal policies against the Jews. Under Vespasian (A.D. 69-79) both the Sanhedrin and the office of the High Priest were abolished and worship at the temple was forbidden. Hadrian (A.D. 117-138).... outlawed the practice of the Jewish religion and particularly the observance of the Sabbath. (ibid. p. 173)

Such circumstances invited Christians to develop a new identity, not only characterized by a negative attitude toward the Jews, but also by the substitution of characteristic Jewish religious customs by new ones. These would serve to make the Roman authorities aware that the Christians, as Marcel Simon emphasizes, "liberated from any tie with the religion of Israel and the land of Palestine, represented for the empire irreproachable subjects."

This internal need of the Christian community to develop what may be called an "anti-Judaism of differentiation" found expression particularly in the development of unwarranted criteria of scriptural interpretation through which Jewish history and observances could be made void of meaning and function. (ibid. p. 183)

Thousands of law-observant Jews became followers of the "Way" in the early years, and they attended temple and synagogue functions, yet they also had meetings for believers only. They discussed the scriptures, shared meals, prayed and sang hymns related to their Messianic experiences. Initially, they met daily (Acts 2:46).

Many of their meetings were on the Saturday evening (the traditional Havdallah service), after the Sabbath had ended and the teaching on the scriptures that had been read the previous day would be discussed, especially if they had messianic significance. As the faith spread to Jewish communities in Antioch, Alexandria and Rome, similar situations would foster the development of post-Sabbatic meetings.

When Gentiles began to be added to the assemblies, they attended synagogue readings and would also need an after-Sabbath meeting time for worship and further exposition of the Torah. Eventually Gentiles from pagan backgrounds were also added, e.g., in Alexandria, Ephesus and Rome. These converts were not already attending synagogue, and as persecution developed a pattern developed that they would only attend the believers' meetings after the Sabbath. Thus two groups emerged, those who went to the synagogue and met after the Sabbath, and those who did not and met only after the Sabbath to receive the teaching from those who went.

As the 'Gentile' content of the assemblies increased and they became the majority, the meetings became led by them and together with the rising anti-Jewish sentiment and the strong desire to establish separateness from Judaism because of persecution from being identified with them, they drifted away from their Jewish/Hebraic roots.

The custom of after-Sabbath meetings would have been spread by travelling evangelists, and the tradition would have been maintained even in areas without Sabbath meetings. Even in areas with synagogues, meeting on the Sabbath would become less important, since synagogue readings had to be interpreted, and the interpretations were given in the after-Sabbath meeting. The desire for attendance at the synagogue would become further reduced when Christian groups obtained their own copies of the Scriptures which began to happen in the second century.

This explains how an initially Sabbath-keeping Jewish/Hebraic group could become a Sunday‑keeping Gentile group within a few generations, and it explains how this could have been done throughout the empire (Rome) simultaneously with a minimum of controversy. (Andrews University Seminary Studies 17 (1979): 85-104)

Second Century Practice Until Constantine The second-century writers show that many believers met on Sunday and in some areas they did not keep the Sabbath.

According to Irenaeus, Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch at the time of Trajan (A.D. 98-117). The Bishop argues against the Judaizing tendencies of his territory, which, not far geographically from Palestine, had suffered the influences of the synagogue and of the "Judaeo-Christians." His language suggests that the separation from Judaism was in progress, though the ties had not yet been severed. In fact the tenacious survival and veneration of Jewish institutions such as the Sabbath is explicitly mentioned, and the necessity to renounce Jewish customs (ch. 8:1,2 & 10:3). "Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness.11 . . . But let every one of you keep the Sabbath in a spiritual manner, rejoicing in the meditation on the law, not in the relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, nor walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them."

The fact that Ignatius urges Christians to stop "practicing Judaism" (Magnesians 8:1) or "living like the Jews" (10:3) and to follow the example of the prophets in not judaizing on the Sabbath, implies that many Christians were still following traditional Jewish customs, especially in the matter of Sabbath-keeping. It is reasonable to assume that believers in Asia were still keeping the Sabbath and were resisting the change to Sunday.

We have indications, however, that in the East the substitution of the Sabbath by Sunday worship was gradual since Jewish observances there constituted, as A. P. Hayman points out it was, "a perennial attraction . . . for the Christian."

In the West, particularly in Rome, however, we have found that the break with Judaism occurred earlier and more radically, causing the replacement of Jewish festivities such as the Sabbath and Passover. But even in Lombardy (Italy) a group of Sabbath-keeping believers was established in 120 AD and continued under persecution for many centuries. They held to two principles - The first was a notion that the observance of the Law of Moses, in everything except the offering of sacrifices, was obligatory upon Christians; in consequence of which they ... Abstained from those meats, the use of which was prohibited under the Mosaic economy, and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath. The second tenet that distinguished this sect was advanced in opposition to the doctrine of three persons in the divine nature. (Eccl. Hist., Cent 12, Part 2, Ch. 5, Sec. 14, p. 127: as quoted by Dugger and Dodd, )

The Epistle of Barnabas, dated by the majority of the scholars between A.D. 130 - 138, was written by a pseudonymous Barnabas probably at Alexandria, a cosmopolitan cultural center where the conflict between Jews and Christians was particularly acute. This contains the first explicit reference to the observance of Sunday, denominated as "eighth day", and it also reveals the social and theological tensions which existed between Jews and believers. The Epistle of Barnabas reveals that the author purposes to demonstrate the total repudiation on the part of God of Judaism as a true religion. While Ignatius condemns the "judaizing" of some Christians.

Epiphanius (ca. A.D. 315-403) suggests that until A.D. 135 Christians everywhere observed Passover on the Jewish date, namely, on Nisan 15, irrespective of the day of the week. If our informer is correct, this would mean that prior to that time, no necessity had been felt to institute a Sunday memorial (whether annual or weekly) to honor the resurrection.

Justin Martyr the next writer, is of Greek background. He lived, taught and wrote his Apologies and Dialogue with Trypho in Rome under the reign of Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161). He gives the first extensive treatment of the Sabbath and the first detailed description of Sunday worship and how the problem of Sabbath and Sunday worship was felt in the capital city. His testimony, coming from Rome, confirms what we have already gathered from other sources, namely the existence of deep anti-Judaic feelings. The adoption of a new day of worship appears to have been motivated by the necessity to evidence a clear dissociation from the Jews.

Sabbath observance was widespread and appears to have been opposed from Rome. It was kept in Egypt as the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus (c. 200-250 AD) shows: Except ye make the sabbath a real sabbath [Gr. sabbatize the Sabbath], ye shall not see the Father (The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Pt. 1, p. 3, Logion 2, verso 4-11, London: Offices of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, 1898).

Origen also enjoined Sabbath-keeping: After the festival of the unceasing sacrifice [the crucifixion] is put the second festival of the Sabbath, and it is fitting for whoever is righteous among the saints to keep also the festival of the Sabbath. There remains therefore a sabbatismus, that is, a keeping of the Sabbath, to the people of God [Hebrews 4:9] (Homily on Numbers 23, para. 4, in Migne, Patrologia Græca, Vol. 12, cols. 749, 750).

Similarly the Constitution of the Holy Apostles (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, p. 413; c. 3rd century) states: Thou shalt observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from His work of creation, but ceased not from His work of providence: it is a rest for meditation of the law, not for idleness of the hands.

The Sabbatati of Europe were not an inconsiderable force. The Church established in Milan kept the Sabbath. It was the practice generally of the Eastern Churches; and some churches of the West ... For in the Church of Millaine [Milan]; ... it seemes the Saturday was held in a farre esteeme ... Not that the Easterne Churches, or any of the rest which observed that day were inclined to Iudaisme [Judaism]; but that they came together on the Sabbath day, to worship Iesus [Jesus] Christ the Lord of the Sabbath (Dr. Peter Heylyn History of the Sabbath, London 1636, Part 2, para. 5, pp. 73-74; original spelling retained).

The Influence of Constantine Constantine introduced a very strong element of anti-Semitism into the "Christian" church. Constantine forbade those who believed in Y'shua, on pain of death, from worshiping on the Sabbath.

Sunday worship was a convenient means of excluding Jewish believers from continued fellowship with Gentile Believers. His reason for excluding them was clear - they would not compromise their principles and accept Constantine, who continued to worship the Roman Sun Idol, as having any right to exert authority among those who believed in Messiah. There was great trauma suffered by Jews-under the banner of "Christ" and under the depiction of a cross. Many of those persecutions focused on the Jewish practice of Sabbath worship.

In 321 A.D. The emperor of Rome, Constantine, by decree, changed the Sabbath of Yahweh, Saturday (the 7th day) to a Sunday, in order to worship Constantine’s beloved “sun god mithra or tammuz.” (the mother of tammuz is now the current “lady of fatima,” better known as “the queen of heaven.”) Constantine declared, “On the venerable day of the Sun (meaning the Sungod Mithra) let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest.” Then, in 364 A.D. the Council of Laodicea ordered that “Sunday is the new Sabbath,” and declares, “Christians shall not Judaise and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day.” The changes had taken place over a rather long period of time.

About 417 A.D, Pope Innocent I, wrote a decretal which became canon law that the church should absolutely not observe the sacraments on Friday or Saturday. Which reveals, of course, that up until this time, a lot of people did. Two contemporary historians, Sozomen (about 440) and Socrates (about 439) confirm this.

According to Socrates : "Although almost all churches throughout the world celebrated the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this."

So as late as the fifth century, there were still those who kept the Sabbath and a minority of churches in the areas of Alexandria and Rome, had Sunday observance well established. The Roman church was determined to inhibit Sabbath observance and sought to establish Sunday as the day of worship throughout the empire. They ordered fasting on the Sabbath as a way to curtail the true observance of the Sabbath, and this practice continued among some until after 1000 AD. (ibid. p. 192)

Even though the opposition to Sabbath-keeping was strong, the traditions handed down from the apostles prevailed in many areas and keeping the Sabbath continued to be practiced up to the seventeenth century in some of those places.

The believers in Ethiopia have to this present day, maintained the traditions handed down to them from the eunuch in Acts 8 who received them directly from Phillip the evangelist when he went to worship in Jerusalem.

Observing Sunday as a kind of “substitute sabbath” robs one of the profound and positive impact of Yahweh's original Testimony - the sign of His covenant.