Final Protestant Argument Against Seventh-day Sabbath Observance Collapses Under New Research
According to modern Gentile Protestant Christian understanding, the seventh day Sabbath was “done away” by Christ himself, as far as an observance for NT believers is concerned. In fact this has been the official stance of the major segments of the church for about 1600 years — at least since the period of the sun worshiping Roman emperor, Constantine. There are, however, a growing number of Christian theologians and academics who are honest enough to publicly recognise that neither Yeshua nor his apostles ever abrogated the Sabbath, and that the early “Jewish-Christian Church” (really, Messianic Community) continued to observe it as God’s holy day and as an integral part of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments).
Indeed, historical secular records plainly show that the Sabbath was observed by Gentiles in both the Irish-Celtic, the Scottish and the Abyssinian churches, to name only three, centuries after the Great Apostasy of the fourth century.
Until recently, however, embarrassed sabbatarian believers have not been able to explain why the NT is silent in regards trials and hardships that slaves in the Roman empire would have encountered in relation to Sabbath-observance. If the Sabbath was still being maintained, Paul’s epistles are strangely silent on their problems, and therefore it is assumed the Sabbath was not expected to be celebrated. (See for example, a classic statement by a certain Robert Brinsmead: “…Sabbath observance [was] impossible for lower-class Gentiles, many of whom were slaves” in The Status of Jesus Re-examined, Verdict, Essay 1A,4, 1998). But is Paul’s silence truly an indication that the Sabbath was not being kept, at least by slaves?
- Firstly, it must be recognised that the Jewish religion was protected by Rome. Adherents to Judaism had inviolable rights, and the Roman State sanctioned their Torah observance.
Judaism was in all points a legal religion (religio lecita), that is, it was officially recognised by Rome. Therefore, the Jews had absolutely no problems in observing the seventh day as holy time. The Romans protected Jewish religious expectations. This fact has always been understood by ecclesiastical scholars. The Jews were so popular (prior to their uprisings in 70 CE and again in 132 CE) that virtually everyone in the ancient Greco-Roman world copied their traditions and customs, at least to one degree or another.
Indeed, the Stoic philosopher Seneca lamented that “the customs of this accursed nation [the Jews] have gained such influence that they are now received throughout the world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors…the greater part of the [Gentile] people go through a ritual not knowing why they do so.”
Likewise Josephus, the Jewish historian, confirmed: “There is not one Greek or barbarian nor a single nation to whom our custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread, and where the fasts and the lighting of lamps and many of our prohibitions in the matter of food are not observed.”
- But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Saturn’s Day (our Saturday) was the FIRST day of the Roman planetary week and it was followed by the second day of the planetary week dies Solis, the Day of the Sun (our Sunday) — it was not the other way around.
This arrangement of prime importance of observance for Saturn’s day continued until the middle of the second century when dies Solis eventually eclipsed it in prestige.
Saturn’s Day was considered by the pagan Romans an unpopular day for engaging in business activities, so much so that Tibullus (writing circa 30 BCE) noted that “the sacred day of Saturn held one back” — it restricted normal business functions. By the time of Tertullian the Romans had adopted the Jewish “ease and luxury” of the Sabbath day rest on Saturn’s Day. The Canaanite church Father noted: “We have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury, though they too go far away from Jewish ways, of which indeed they are ignorant.”
It would naturally follow that Gentile-Christian or Jewish-Christian slaves would not encounter anything less than the same religious freedom Rome extended to all the Jews. What was original Christianity anyway but a lively and popular Messianic movement within the prevalent religion of Judaism?
- The Romans would not have differentiated between Jewish Messianism and official Judaism.
As such, sabbatarian “Christians” were granted the same privileges and protection to observe the elements of their Faith in an empire in which Saturn’s Day was sacrosanct. As these early records show, sabbatarians could keep the Sabbath without fear of being compelled to violate its expectations of reverence. Paul’s silence about Sabbath-related difficulties establishes this to be the case.