THE testimony for first-day sacredness is very meager in the Scriptures, as even its own advocates must admit. But they have been wont to supply the deficiency by a plentiful array of testimonies from the early fathers of the church. Here, in time past, they have had the field all to themselves, and they have allowed their zeal for the change of the Sabbath to get the better of their honesty and their truthfulness. The first-day Sabbath was absolutely unknown before the time of Constantine. Nearly one hundred years elapsed after John was in vision on Patmos, before the term "Lord's day" was applied to the first day. During this time, it was called "the day of the sun," "the first day of the week," and "the eighth day." The first writers who give it the name of "Lord's day," state the remarkable fact that in their judgment the true Lord's day consists of every day of a Christian's life, a very convincing proof that they did not give this title to Sunday because John had so named it on Patmos. In fact, no one of those who give this title to Sunday ever assign as a reason for so doing that it was thus called by John. Nor is there an intimation in one of the fathers that first-day observance was an act of obedience to the fourth commandment, nor one clear statement that ordinary labor on that day was sinful. In order to show these facts, I have undertaken to give every testimony of every one of the fathers, prior to A. D. 325, who mentions either the Sabbath or the first day. Though some of these quotations are comparatively unimportant, others are of very great value. I have given them all, in order that the reader may actually possess their entire testimony. I have principally followed the translation of the "Ante-Nicene Christian Library," and have in every case made use of first-day translations. The work has been one of great labor to me, and I trust will be found of much profit to the candid reader. 

J. N. ANDREWS. Jan. 1, 1873.


WITH respect to the Sabbath, the religious world may be divided into three classes:

  1. Those who retain the ancient seventh-day Sabbath.
  2. Those who observe the first-day Sabbath.
  3. Those who deny the existence of any Sabbath.1

It is inevitable that controversy should exist between these parties. Their first appeal is to the Bible, and this should decide the case; for it reveals man's whole duty. But there is an appeal by the second party, and sometimes by the third, to another authority, the early fathers of the church, for the decision of the question.

The controversy stands thus: The second and third parties agree with the first that God did anciently require the observance of the seventh day; but both deny the doctrine of the first, that he still requires men to hallow that day; the second asserting that he has changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week; and the third declaring that he has totally abolished the institution itself.

The first class plant themselves upon the plain letter of the law of God, and adduce those scriptures which teach the perpetuity and immutability of the moral law, and which show that the new covenant does not abrogate that law, but puts it into the heart of every Christian.

The second class attempt to prove the change of the Sabbath by quoting those texts which mention the first day of the week, and also those which are said to refer to it. The first day is, on such authority, called by this party the Christian Sabbath, and the fourth commandment is used by them to enforce this new Sabbath.

The third class adduce those texts which assert the dissolution of the old covenant; and those which teach the abolition of the ceremonial law with all its distinction of days, as new moons, feast days, and annual sabbaths; and also those texts which declare that men cannot be justified by that law which condemns sin; and from all these contend that the law and the Sabbath are both abolished.

But the first class answer to the second that the texts which they bring forward do not meet the case, inasmuch as they say nothing respecting the change of the Sabbath; and that it is not honest to use the fourth commandment to enforce the observance of a day not therein commanded. And the third class assent to this answer as truthful and just.

To the position of the third class, the first make this answer: That the old covenant was made between God and his people concerning his law,2 that it ceased because the people failed in its conditions, the keeping of the commandments; that the new covenant does not abrogate the law of God, but secures obedience to it by putting it into the heart of every Christian; that there are two systems of law, one being made up of typical and ceremonial precepts, and the other consisting of moral principles only; that those texts which speak of the abrogation of the handwriting of ordinances and of the distinction in meats, drinks, and days, pertain alone to this shadowy system, and never to the moral law which contains the Sabbath of the Lord; and that it is not the fault of the law, but of sinners, that they are condemned by it; and that justification being attained only by the sacrifice of Christ as a sin-offering, is in itself a most powerful attestation to the perpetuity, immutability, and perfection, of that law which reveals sin. And to this answer the second class heartily assent.

But the second class have something further to say. The Bible, indeed, fails to assert the change of the Sabbath, but these persons have something else to offer, in their estimation, equally as good as the Scriptures. The early fathers of the church, who conversed with the apostles, or who conversed with some who had conversed with them, and those who followed for several generations, are by this class presented as authority, and their testimony is used to establish the so-called Christian Sabbath on a firm basis. And this is what they assert respecting the fathers:

That they distinctly teach the change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week, and that the first day is by divine authority the Christian Sabbath.

But the third class squarely deny this statement, and affirm that the fathers held the Sabbath as an institution made for the Jews when they came out of Egypt, and that Christ abolished it at his death. They also assert that the fathers held the first day, not as a Sabbath in which men must not labor lest they break a divine precept, but as an ecclesiastical institution, which they called the Lord's day, and which was the proper day for religious assemblies because custom and tradition thus concurred. And so the third class answer the second by an explicit denial of its alleged facts. They also aim a blow at the first by the assertion, that the early fathers taught the no-Sabbath doctrine, which must therefore be acknowledged as the real doctrine of the New Testament. 

And now the first class respond to these conflicting statements of the second and the third. And here is its response:

  1. That our duty respecting the Sabbath, and respecting every other thing, can be learned only from the Scriptures.
  2. That the first three hundred years after the apostles, nearly accomplished the complete development of the great apostasy, which had commenced even in Paul's time; and this age of apostatizing cannot be good authority for making changes in the law of God.
  3. That only a small proportion of the ministers and teachers of this period have transmitted any writings to our time; and these are generally fragments of the original works, and they have come down to us mainly through the hands of the Romanists, who have never scrupled to destroy, or to corrupt, that which witnesses against themselves, whenever it has been in their power to do it.
  4. But, inasmuch as these two classes, viz., those who maintain the first-day Sabbath, and those who deny the existence of any Sabbath, both appeal to these fathers for testimony with which to sustain themselves, and to put down the first class, viz., those who hallow the ancient Sabbath, it becomes necessary that the exact truth respecting the writings of that age, which now exist, should be shown. There is but one method of doing this which will effectually end the controversy. This is to give every one of their testimonies concerning the Sabbath and first-day in their own words. In doing this the following facts will appear:

“The matter of this work is unquestionably ancient; since the manners and discipline of which it exhibits a view are those which prevailed amongst the Christians of the second and third centuries, especially those resident in Greece and the oriental regions.”

Of the Apostolical Constitutions, Guericke's Church History speaks thus:

“This is a collection of ecclesiastical statutes purporting to be the work of the apostolic age, but in reality formed gradually in the second, third, and fourth centuries, and is of much value in reference to the history of polity, and Christian archaeology generally.” - Ancient Church, p. 212.

1 Those who compose this class are unanimous in the view that the Sunday festival was established by the church; and they all agree in making it their day of worship, but not for the same reason; for, while one part of them devoutly accept the institution as the Lord's day on the authority of the church, the other part make it their day for worship simply because it is the most convenient day. [Return]

2 Such is the exact nature of the covenant mentioned in Ex.24:8; and Paul, in Heb.9:18-20, quotes this passage, calling the covenant herein mentioned “the first testament,” or covenant. [Return]

3 The case of Origen is a partial exception. Not all his works have been accessible to the writer, but sufficient of them have been examined to lay before the reader a just representation of his doctrine. [Return]

Chapter 2 Testimony of Apostolical Constitutions