12. How Sunday Rose into Prominence

IN this treatise, giving an account of the change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week, it is but reasonable that we should present the prominent causes which led to this result. We have shown that the Bible gives no account of such a change: but it has been made, and the great mass of Christians are now observing the first day of the week. There must have been a united action of powerful causes to accomplish this. We present, as the most prominent of these, the following:

1. Sunday was an ancient heathen festival, which, from time immemorial, had been looked upon with favor, and regarded as more or less sacred by worshipers of the sun; so that when Christianity made progress among the idolatrous Gentile nations, it came in conflict with this custom.

2. The difficulty of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath, surrounded as Christians were by the great masses of the people who did not observe it, but who paid more or less respect to Sunday.

3. The voluntary observance of memorable days, such as the day of the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, etc., as the church lost its purity, and began to wander away from the Scriptures.

4. Hatred of the Jews, which was cherished among the Gentile nations, especially the Roman people, and after the death of the apostles, among Christians, on account of the persecutions they received, and because the Jews put Christ to death.

5. Especially, as the work of apostasy proceeded, the acceptance of tradition in place of the Bible. Here the church lost its connection with God, and wandered into heathenish practices, setting aside precious truths of divine authority, and accepting the inventions of men.

6. The hatred of the Church of Rome to the Sabbath of the Lord, seeking constantly to lower it in the estimation of the people, and to exalt the first day in its place. When this church came fully into power, it accomplished the work.

These influences combined, in the space of centuries, gradually to undermine the Sabbath, and to exalt the first day of the week in popular estimation, till, in the observance of the masses, it wholly superseded the Sabbath. We will notice more particularly some of these causes.

Antiquity of Sun Worship

The festival of Sunday is very ancient, reaching back into hoary antiquity. No person can tell where or when it did originate. It was of idolatrous origin, and was consecrated to the worship of the sun. There was a time, in the days of the early patriarchs, when the worship of the true God was universal. But Satan, the great enemy of God, instituted idolatry. The worship of the sun, moon, and stars, especially the former, was the most ancient and prevalent form of idolatry. Under various names, in all the heathen nations, the sun was adored. Sunday was evidently a rival to God’s ancient Sabbath, as idolatry was a grand counterfeit system to the worship of the true God. In proof of these statements we cite various authorities, all of them persons who did not observe the seventh day, but the first day of the week, as far as they observed any day. Webster thus defines the word Sunday:

“Sunday; so called because the day was anciently dedicated to the sun or to its worship. The first day of the week.”

Worcester, also, in his large dictionary thus defines it:

“Sunday; so named because anciently dedicated to the sun or to its worship. The first day of the week.”

The North British Review, in a labored attempt to justify the observance of Sunday by the Christian world, styles the day:

“The Wild Solar Holiday [i.e., festival in honor of the Sun] of All Pagan Times.”(Vol. 18, page 409.)

This, from such an intelligent authority, is certainly a strong proof of the general regard for the Sunday among the heathen. It is indeed surprising how Sunday should thus generally have come to be a holiday each week. This is strong evidence of the antiquity of the weekly division of time. Verstegan says:

“The most ancient Germans being pagans, and having appropriated their first day of the week to the peculiar adoration of the sun, whereof that day does yet in our English tongue retain the name of Sunday.” (Verstegan’s Antiquities, page 10, London, 1628.) Again he says:

“Unto the day dedicated unto the special adoration of the idol of the sun, they gave the name of Sunday, as much as to say, the sun’s day, or the day of the sun. This idol was placed in a temple, and there adored and sacrificed unto, for that they believed that the sun in the firmament did with or in this idol correspond and cooperate.” (Idem, page 68.)

Jennings, speaking of the time of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, thus speaks of the Gentile nations as:

“The idolatrous nations who, in honor of their chief god, the sun, began their day at his rising.” (Jewish Antiquities, book 3, Chapter I.)


“The day which the heathen in general consecrated to the worship and honor of their chief god, the sun, which, according to our computation, was the first day of the week.” (Idem, chap. 3.)

We see, therefore, according to this author, that Sunday was more ancient than the coming out of Egypt.

Morer says:

“It is not to be denied but we borrow the name of this day from the ancient Greeks and Romans, and we allow that the old Egyptians worshiped the sun, and as a standing memorial of their veneration, dedicated this day to him. And we find by the influence of their examples, other nations, and among them the Jews themselves, doing him homage.” (Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, pages 22, 23.)

Origin of Sun Worship

These statements of respectable authors place Sunday in the very earliest ages of antiquity, as a “memorial” of the first form of idolatry among the Egyptians, from whom the Romans and the Greeks largely derived their forms of heathen worship. It is well known that their most famous philosophers went to Egypt to become acquainted with their sacred mysteries. Among the Assyrians and Persians, two other very ancient nations, it is well known that Sabianism—the worship of the sun, moon, and stars—was the most ancient form of religion. Thus sun-worship, with its attendant “memorial,” was struggling for recognition away back in the earliest ages, and that, too, in direct antagonism with the “memorial” of Jehovah’s rest, the Sabbath of the Lord.

No one can fully grasp the Sabbath and Sunday question without viewing it in these extended relations. The change of the Sabbath is the result of one of the deepest plans ever conceived by the author of all evil. As the Sabbath is the memorial of God’s creative power, a grand monument of the work which shows his divinity as an omnipotent being, Satan aims against it his most cunning schemes, to set it aside and to put in its place a day which commemorates false worship and apostasy from God. We have seen that the Sunday holiday was regarded throughout the whole heathen world, even in the earliest ages before the exodus from Egypt.

The Sabbath Among Gentile Nations

Though not exactly in the line of the argument we are now considering, we cannot refrain from noticing the position of the Sabbath among the Gentile nations in this first great struggle of its rival, the Sunday. This reference will be valuable, inasmuch as it proves the existence of the Sabbath among other nations, long before it was specially committed to the Jewish people for preservation till the knowledge of the true God should be once more restored to those nations who had wandered into idolatry.

Calmet gives the following:

“Manasseh Ben Israel assures us that, according to the tradition of the ancients, Abraham and his posterity, having preserved the memory of creation, observed the Sabbath also, in consequence of natural law to that purpose. It is also believed that the religion of the seventh day is preserved among the pagans; and the observance of this day is as old as the world itself. Almost all the philosophers and poets acknowledge the seventh day holy!”

This statement that Abraham observed the Sabbath is in perfect harmony with the statement in the book of Genesis, that Abraham “kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws,” and with the fact that in that age they reckoned time by weeks. Genesis 26:5; 29:27. We know that the Sabbath was in existence before the law was given on Sinai, because the children of Israel kept it a month before the promulgation of that law; and God set it apart at the creation. Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 16. Abraham, who came from the Assyrian country, kept the Sabbath; and this writer intimates that it was known among all the ancient nations.

The Arabs are also a very ancient nation. They existed in Abraham’s time. William Jones, missionary to Palestine, says:

“The seventh day is known throughout Arabia by ‘Yorn-es-Sabt,’ or day of the Sabbath. Neither the word ‘seven’ nor any other name is given by the Arabs to the Sabbath day. It is always the Sabbath; and the reason for it, they say, is that this has been its name from the beginning.”

This is valuable testimony. The Arabs were never united with the Jews. They have always inhabited the country in which they settled in Abraham’s time, and have nearly always maintained an independent existence as a people. Gilfillan says:

“It would also appear that the Chinese, who have now no Sabbath, at one time honored the seventh day of the week.” (The Sabbath, page 360.)

The Asiatic Journal has this item:

“The prime minister of the empire affirms that the Sabbath was anciently observed by the Chinese, in conformity to the directions of the king.”

On page 359 he says:

“The Phoenicians, according to Porphyry, consecrated the seventh day as holy.”

Josephus bears this testimony:

“There is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day has not come.” (Against Apion, book 2, par. 40.)

Gilfillan says:

“The Greeks and Romans, according to Aretius, consecrated Saturday to rest, conceiving it unfit for civil actions and warlike affairs, but suited for contemplation.” (The Sabbath, page 363.)

John G. Butler, a Free-will Baptist author, says:

“We also learn from the testimony of Philo, Hesiod, Josephus, Porphyry, and others, that the division of time into weeks and the observance of the seventh day were common to the nations of antiquity. They would not have adopted such a custom from the Jews. Whence, then, could it have been derived, but through tradition, from its original institution in the Garden of Eden?” (Natural and Revealed Theology, page 396.)

Archbishop Usher gives the following:

“The very Gentiles, both civil and barbarous, both ancient and of later days, as it were by universal kind of tradition, retained the distinction of the seventh day of the week.” (Usher’s Works, part 1, chap. 4.)

Hesiod (B.C. 870) says:

“The seventh day is sacred.”

Homer (B.C. 907) says:

“Then comes the seventh day, that is sacred.”

Tibulus says:

“Bad omens detained me on the sacred day of Saturn!”

Assyrian Tablets

We come now to one of the most interesting discoveries of modern times. In the investigations of the ancient ruins of Nineveh and Babylon during the past fifty years, many marvelous things have been brought to light, things showing an extensive knowledge of the arts and sciences, which have been lost for ages, and among them are ancient monuments and tablets, on which historical facts were sculptured. Learned men have, after much investigation, been enabled to read these inscriptions, and many facts have been obtained which corroborate the record of the Holy Scriptures. Among others, records have been discovered showing conclusively that in those early times the seventh day Sabbath was observed. We quote from the Congregationalist (Boston), Nov. 15, 1882:

“Mr. George Smith says in his ‘Assyrian Discoveries’ (1875): ‘In the year 1869, I discovered, among other things, a curious religious calendar of the Assyrians, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh days, or Sabbaths, are marked out as days on which no work should be undertaken.’ Again, in his ‘History of Assur-bani-pal,’ he says, ‘The 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th [days of the month] are described by an ideogram equivalent to sulu or sulum, meaning “rest.” The calendar contains lists of work forbidden to be done on these days, which evidently correspond to the Sabbaths of the Jews.’”

H. Fox Talbot, F. R. S., one of the learned Assyriologists of Europe, says of the fifth “Creation Tablet” found by Mr. George Smith on the opposite side of ancient Nineveh, on the bank of the Tigris, and now to be seen in the British Museum:

“This fifth tablet is very important, because it affirms clearly, in my opinion, that the origin of the Sabbath was coequal with the creation . . . It has been known for some time, that the Babylonians observed the Sabbath with considerable strictness. On that day the king was riot allowed to take a drive in his chariot; various meats were forbidden to be eaten; and there were a number of other minute restrictions . . . But it is not known that they believed the Sabbath to have been ordained at creation. I have found, however, since the translation of the fifth tablet was completed, that Mr. Sayce has recently published a similar opinion. See the Academy of Nov. 27, 1875, p. 554.” (Records of the Past, Vol. IV, pages 117, 118.) A. H. Sayce, in his lecture before the Royal Institution concerning the Assyrian tablets discovered in the excavations on the site of ancient Babylon, says:

“The Sabbath of the seventh day appears to have been observed with great strictness; even the monarch was forbidden to eat cooked meat, change his clothes, take medicine, or drive his chariot on that day.” (Northern Christian Advocate.)

Here we have testimony, which could be greatly multiplied, showing that away back in the earliest ages the Chinese, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Arabians, Greeks, and Romans, and many other nations, did regard the Sabbath as a sacred day. The farther we get back, the more sacredly they seemed to regard it. It is not surprising that Abraham, who came from Assyria, was a Sabbath-keeper. These tablets were engraved long before histories, in the ordinary sense of the term, were written; or at least none so ancient were extant, unless it be the books of Moses. Yet these facts were preserved all these ages on the tablets of stone, and now come to light as testimony to the sacredness of the Sabbath from the most ancient nations.

The Sabbath Superseded

But let the thoughtful reader notice the striking fact that when idolatry came to prevail fully, the son-worship became general among all the nations but the Jews, the Sabbath gradually disappeared, and the Sunday, the “memorial” of idolatry, took its place in general esteem. It is in the earliest record of these nations that we find references to the Sabbath. In the later ones there are very few. Satan, the author of false worship, suppressed the Sabbath wherever his influence was paramount.

But God chose the children of Abraham because this devout man kept his, charge, his commandments, his statutes, and his laws. He surrounded them with special circumstances, customs, and ordinances, to keep them from the heathen nations around them, till the “seed” Christ should come, through whom all the nations of the world should be blessed, by the calling of the Gentiles again. God gave himself to that people, and with himself his great “memorial,” the Sabbath, which kept in mind his work at creation. The other nations once had it; but through their idolatry, God and his memorial were nearly forgotten by them. Satan tried his best to rob God’s chosen people of this keepsake; but because of God’s chastisements and the constant warnings of the prophets, he could not quite accomplish this work.

After Christ came, and the apostles were sent to the Gentiles, they carried with them, as we have shown, the Sabbath of the Lord. The early Christians kept it as Christ and the apostles had done; and as Christianity spread abroad to all the nations of the earth, the two “memorials” once more came in conflict. The Sunday “holiday of all pagan times” was entrenched among all the nations. The people everywhere regarded it as a special day of pleasure and recreation. It came every week. This fact made it difficult for those who kept the seventh day as the Sabbath, something in the same manner as it makes it difficult now for those who turn from the observance of Sunday to the Sabbath. All who have tried it, know how hard it is. Gradually, after a generation or two, the sense of sacredness began to weaken, and feelings of expediency were cherished. The great struggle between the two memorials then began, and continued, as we shall see, till the Sabbath of the Lord was generally abandoned.

These influences are well presented by a clergyman of the Church of England, Mr. Chafle, who published in 1652 a work in vindication of first-day observance. After showing the general observance of Sunday by the heathen world in the early ages of the church, he thus states the reasons which forbid Christians’ attempting to keep any other day:

“1. Because of the contempt, scorn, and derision they thereby should be had in, among all the Gentiles with whom they lived . . . How grievous would be their taunts and reproaches against the poor Christians living with them and under their power for their new-set sacred day, had the Christians chosen any other than the Sunday . . . 2. Most Christians then were either servants or of the poorer sort of people; and the Gentiles, most probably, would not give their servants liberty to cease from working on any other set day constantly, except on their Sunday . . . 3. Because, had they assayed such a change, it would have been but labor in vain; . . . they could never have brought it to pass.” (The Seventh day Sabbath, pages 61, 62.)

These reasons present powerful inducements which we cannot deny to those who regard expediency more than principle. The early Church had begun already to apostatize from God, and to accept traditions in preference to the Scriptures. Many of the early Fathers had been heathen philosophers. It ever comes natural for human nature, when it changes its religious belief, to take with it more or less of the old notions and practices.

Gradually the Church began to be less strict in its observance of Bible truths, and to conform more and more to the spirit of the world around them. No Protestant will dispute this in reference to their regard to many of the gospel requirements. Many thought by uniting more or less with their heathen neighbors they would be more likely to convert them. In this way the Sabbath partially lost its sacredness, and the first day gained its position and influence.

Merer, after stating the fact that the first day of the week, as we have quoted, had long been the “memorial” of sun-worship, as its name, “Sunday,” implies, places before us the reasons why the church was led to adopt it:

“These abuses did not hinder the Fathers of the Christian Church simply to repeal, or altogether lay by, the day or its name, but only to sanctify and improve both, as they did also the pagan temples polluted before with idolatrous services, and other instances wherein these good men were always tender to work any other change than what was evidently necessary, and in such things as were plainly inconsistent with the Christian religion. So that Sunday being the day on which the Gentiles solemnly adored that planet, and called it Sunday, . . . the Christians thought fit to keep the same day and the same name of it, that they might not appear causelessly peevish, and by that means hinder the conversion of the Gentiles, and bring a greater prejudice than might be otherwise taken against the gospel.” (Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, pages 22, 23.)

It is such politic reasoning as this which has always led to apostasy and conformity to the world. It finally developed fully into the Roman Catholic Church, a mixture of heathenism and Christianity. This conformity to the heathen custom of regarding Sunday as a festival day, was carried so far that many thought the Christians worshiped the sun as a god; so that Tertullian, one of the Christian Fathers, defended them from this charge. He answered that though they worshiped toward the east, like the heathen, they did it for another reason than sun worship. He acknowledged that these acts—prayer toward the east, and making Sunday a day of festivity did give men a chance to think the sun was the god of the Christians. (See Apology, chapter 67, section 16.)

Tertullian is therefore a witness to the fact that Sunday was a heathen festival when it was adopted by the Christian Church, and that they were taunted with being sun-worshipers.

When we see the striking changes which have occurred in the manner of observing Sunday within the past one or two hundred years, even when nearly all regard it with more or less sacredness, and when we note the general laxity of practice as compared with the strictness of our ancestors, we cannot wonder at the changes which two or three centuries produced when strong influences were brought to bear against the Sabbath, and so many other perversions of Bible doctrines were introduced. Thus we see how these two causes—the general regard for Sunday as a weekly heathen holiday, and the difficulty of keeping the seventh day where Sunday observance was almost universal—would powerfully tend to discourage those who kept the Sabbath, and gradually undermine it in the esteem of all.

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