ANTI-JUDAISM AND SUNDAY #11
By Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD
1 Christians assemble on the day of the Sun to commemorate the
first day of creation, on which took place the creation of light
and on which matter was brought out of darkness
"Sunday, indeed, is the day on which we hold our common assembly
because it is the first day on which God, transforming the
darkness and [prime] matter, created the world." 343 The close
nexus between the day of the sun and of the creation of light on
the first day, could seem to be a pure coincidence, if Justin
himself had not elaborated in his "Dialogue with Trypho" on the
difference between the devotion which the pagans render to the
sun and that which the Christians offer to Christ who is more
radiant than the sun:
"His name shall endure forever; it shall rise above the sun;
and all nations shall be blessed in Him." But, if all
nations are blessed in Christ, and we who are from all
nations believe in Him, then He is the Christ, and we are
they who are blessed through Him. It is written that God
once allowed the sun to be worshipped, and yet you cannot
discover anyone who ever suffered death because of his faith
in the sun. But you can find men of every nationality who
for the name of Jesus, have suffered and still suffer, all
kinds of torments rather than deny their faith in Him. For
His word of truth and wisdom is more blazing and bright than
the might of the sun, and it penetrates the very depths of
the heart and mind. 344
Danielou holds that the Christians noticed the coincidence
between the day of the sun and the first day of creation:
The day of the sun is connected with the planetary week,
which came from the Orient, and began to spread in the West
about the time of early Christianity under the influence of
Hellenized magi. This day consecrated to the Sun was found
to coincide with the first day of the Jewish week and so
with the Christian Lord's Day....Sunday was seen as a
renewal of the first day of Creation. 345
It is worth asking if the two themes, creation of light on
the first day and veneration of the sun on the day of the sun,
343 I "Apologia" 67, 7.
344 "Dialogue" 121, Falls, "Justin's Writings," p.335; cf.
Dialogue 64 and 128.
345 Danielou, "Bible and Liturgy," pp.253 and 255; the causal
relationship between the day of the Sun and the origin of Sunday
is investigated in the next chapter; see especially section 4,
"The Day of the Sun and the Origin of Sunday."
(The chapters Dr.Sam refers to where not put into thius book, but
were put in his "From Sabbath to Sunday" book - Keith Hunt)
independently and were later brought together by chance, or if
the Christians in their search for a day of worship distinct from
the Sabbath (the mark of the unfaithfulness of the Jews)
perceived in the day of the sun valid Christian symbols which
could justify its adoption. This latter hypothesis will be
examined in the following chapter where the possible pagan
influences on the origin of the Christian Sunday will be
specifically considered. 346 For the time being it is sufficient
to notice that the first motivation advanced by Justin to justify
the Christian gathering on the day of the sun is the fact that
this is the first day of creation "on which God, transforming the
darkness and [prime] matter, created the world."
2 Besides, Christians celebrated their worship on the day of the
sun, because it was the day in which "our Saviour Jesus Christ
arose from the dead.... For they crucified Him on the day before
that of Saturn, and on the day after, which is Sunday, He
appeared to His Apostles and disciples." 347
The resurrection of Christ was already felt to be a valid
motivation for assembling on the day of the sun to offer a
worship to God. But, as Rordorf points out, "in Justin's First
Apology (67, 7) the primary motivation for the observance of
Sunday is to commemorate the first day of creation and only
secondarily, in addition, the resurrection of Jesus." 348
The resurrection, presented by both Barnabas and Justin as
an additional reason for keeping Sunday, will become in time the
fundamental motivation for Sunday worship. 149
This would lead us to suppose that the commemoration of the
resurrection as the dominant reason for Sunday worship, imposed
itself gradually and possibly as a result of the gradual
acceptance of the Easter-Sunday custom. We noticed, in fact, the
Church of Rome took a clear position against the quartodeciman
Passover, introducing (probably toward the beginning of the
second century) Easter-Sunday to commemoratethe resurrection. 350
3 The Christians observe the "eighth day" because "it
348 See especially section 3 of the following chapter where three
specific examples of reflexes of Sun-worship on Christianity are
investigated, namely: Christ the Sun, the orientation toward the
East and the date of Christmas.
347 I "Apology" 67, 7, Falls, "Justin's Writings," p.107.
348 Rordorf, "Sunday," p.220.
349 The role of the resurrection on the origin of Sunday is
considered in chapter seven, section one.
360 See above pp.85f.
has some mysterious meaning, rather than the seventh." 351
Circumcision was in fact performed on the eighth day, as a "type
of the true circumcision by which we are circumcised from error
and wickedness through our Lord Jesus Christ who arose from the
dead on the first day of the week." 352
Further, the eight persons saved from the flood at the time
of Noah "were a figure of that eighth day (which is, however,
always, first in power) on which our Lord appeared as risen from
the dead." 353
It should be noticed that while in the exposition of the
Christian worship to the Emperor, Justin repeatedly emphasized
that the gathering of the Christians took place on the day of the
sun (possibly, as it was suggested, in order to make the Emperor
aware that the Christians were not rebellious Jews but obedient
citizens), in his polemic with Trypho the Jew, Justin denominates
Sunday as the "eighth day," in contradistinction to and as a
supersedure of the seventh-day Sabbath. Danielou comments
sagaciously on this point:
The substitution of the eighth day for the seventh appears,
therefore, to be the expression, at once symbolic and
concrete, of the substitution of Christianity for Judaism.
This leads us to touch on a primary aspect of the symbolism
of the eighth day. Like the symbolism of the first day, it
was used by the Christians to exalt the superiority of the
Sunday over the Sabbath. 354
The arguments advanced to sustain the superiority of the
eighth day over the seventh, are taken from the Old Testament,
inasmuch as this still constituted a patrimony and an authority
recognized by both Christians and Jews. Justin, in fact, bases
himself on the Old Testament, both to maintain the thesis that
the Sabbath is an institution introduced temporarily "as the very
sign of the reprobation of the Jewish people," 355 and to show
the superiority of Sunday over the Sabbath. The circumcision and
the eight souls saved from the flood become in this context
351 "Dialogue" 24, 1, Falls, "Justin's Writings," p.183.
352 "Dialogue" 41, 4, Falls, ibid., p.210.
353 I "Dialogue" 138, 1, Falls, ibid., p.360; the reference to
the "eight souls" saved from the flood is found for the first
time in I Peter 3:30 and 2 Peter 2:5.
354 Danielou, "Bible and Liturgy," p.257; the patristic
references to the "eighth day" understood as the fulfillment and
supersedure of the Sabbath, are given and discussed in chapter
seven, section three.
315 Ibid., p.233.
prefiguring the eighth day in which Christ with His resurrection
would have accomplished the true purification and salvation for
Danielou perceives a justification for the eighth day even
in Justin's reference to the "fifteen cubits" of water that
covered the mountains during the flood. 356 This is the statement
that Justin makes:
When the Sacred Text states that the entire earth was
inundated, as the water reached a height of 15 cubits above
the highest mountains, it is evident that God did not
address your land, but those who are faithful to Him, for
whom He has arranged a restful haven (Greek is given)) in
Jerusalem. All the signs that accompanied the flood prove my
Commenting on this text Danielou writes:
I think that it is necessary to note also that Justin uses
the number 15 cubits. Now, we meet in the fourth century
frequent speculations on the number fifteen, inasmuch as
being composed of seventh and eighth, it marks the sequence
order of Sabbath and Sunday. It seems to me very likely that
Justin already had this idea in his mind 358
Among the Fathers of the second century, it is undoubtedly
Justin who offers to the scholar the most extensive exposition of
the Sabbath-Sunday issue. From the texts which we have examined,
the following considerations emerge concerning the causes of the
origin of Sunday worship:
1. Justin's negative evaluation and his sharp aversion to
Judaism in general and to the Sabbath in particular, if on the
one hand they caused the repudiation of the Sabbath (considered
to be a mark of the wickedness of the Jews), on the other hand
presuppose that the majority of Christians had felt the necessity
to adopt "the day of the sun" as the day for their assembly and
weekly worship (to evidence their sharp distinction from the
2. The diversity of the motivations advanced by Justin to
justify Sunday as a day of assembly and worship of the Christians
(creation of light, resurrection, eighth day of the circumcision,
eight souls of the ark, 15 cubits ?) is indicative of the effort
which some Christians were making to justify a practice only
356 Danielou, "Dimanche," p.65.
357 "Dialogue" 138, Falls, "Justin's Writings," p.361.
358 Danielou, "Dimanche," p.65.
acquired. In time, in fact, the resurrection would become the
dominant motive for Sunday keeping.
3. The denomination "eighth day" and the arguments drawn
from the Old Testament to show the superiority of the number
eight over seven, are indicative of a polemic going on between
the Christians and Judeo-Christian and/or Jews, where both
parties endeavored to maintain the superiority of one day over
the other. This would imply, once again, that Sunday keeping
arose in the attempt of overcoming and substituting any tie with
the Jewish Sabbath within Christianity.
4. The testimony of Justin, coming from Rome, would
confirm what was already noticed previously, that in the capital
city the majority of the Christian community, due to the
existence of deep anti-Judaic feelings, felt the necessity to
abandon any Sabbatical liturgical practice and to assemble
exclusively on the day of the sun in order to evidence a distinct
dissociation and differentiation from Judaism.
From this brief analysis of the texts of Ignatius, Barnabas
and Justin has emerged the fact that all of them confirm the
presence in their respective respective communities (Antioch,
Alexandria, Rome) of strong anti-Judaic feelings, augmented by
social tensions and theological convictions, which created the
necessity of avoiding any semblance of Judaism.
Ignatius at Antioch condemns the "judaizing" of Christians
and particularly their "sabbatizing," that is the observance of
the Sabbath according to the manner of the Jews, enjoining
the Christians "to live according to the life of the Lord."
Although, according to our evaluation, the text of "Magnesians"
9, 1 would seem to have no reference to "the Lord's Day" but
rather to "the life of the Lord," the fact remains that the
condemnation of "sabbatizing" and the invitation to live not
according to Juaism, "presuppose not only a separation taking
place fron Judaism, but even the presence of favorable conditions
for the adoption of Sunday in order to evidence such a
Barnabas in Alexandria in his effort to neutralize the
influence of Jewish customs, assumes a radical position, rep-
udiating, with his allegorical method, the hisoric validity of
Jews practices and beliefs and "denying purely and simply that
the literal practice of the Sabbath had ever been the object of a
commandment of God." 359
Barnabas suggests that the Christians spend
359 Danielou, "Bible and Liturgy," pp.230,231.
"also the eighth day with rejoicing" 360 as a continuation of and
in contradistinction to the Jewish Sabbath of which God Himself
says: "the present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me." 361 The
antipathy toward Judaism and the Old Law reaches then its summit
in Barnabas, leading him to empty the Sabbath of its significance
and obligation for the present age and to present the eighth day
as its continuation and replacement.
Finally, Justin in Rome reveals in his "Dialogue with
Trypho" a profound resentment against the Jews accusing them as
responsible for the defamatory and persecutory campaign enacted
against the Christians. Although as Danielou observes, "Justin
does not go as far as Barnabas; he holds that God did will the
practice of the Sabbath in its literal meaning," 362
nevertheless we noticed that he does not hesitate to denigrate
the Sabbath "as the very sign of the reprobation of the Jewish
The forsaking of the Sabbath created simultaneously the
necessity of the adoption of a new day of worship. In this
context Sunday worship would seem to have arisen to evidence the
dissociation from the Jews which had taken place. Justin in fact
emphasizes that the Christians assembled themselves "in the day
of the sun," or in "the eighth day" inasmuch as this contains
"more profound mysterious meaning than the seventh." 364
The study conducted in this chapter on the relationship
between Jews and Christians until the middle of the second
century suggests that the primary causes that led to the
forsaking of the Sabbath and to the adoption of Sunday as a new
day of worship are primarily of a social and a political nature.
It would seem in fact that the social tension and animosity that
existed between the two religious communities as well as the
Roman anti-Jewish policy greatly conditioned the Christian
evaluation of the significance of such Old Testament institutions
as the Law, the Sabbath, circumcision, the temple and so forth.
This is not to underestimate the validity and the importance of
the theological motivations presented by the Fathers to justify
the observance of Sunday; due consideration will be given to them
in the last chapter. If there had not been valid and preponderant
theological reasons for the choice of Sunday, nothing would have
360 "The Letter of Barnabas" 15; 9, Goodspeed, "The Apostolic
361 Loc. cit.
382 Danielou, "Bible and Liturgy," p.233.
363 Loc. cit.
364 "Dialogue" 24, 1.
excluded another day from being adopted for weekly worship, data
considered in this chapter suggest that the primary cause which
drove the majority of Christians to search for both a new day of
weekly worship and a new date for the annual celebration of the
Passover, was the felt necessity to dissociate and differentiate
themselves from Judaism. This necessity, we noticed, became
inevitable following the fierce hostility of the Jews toward the
Christians first in Palestine and later in the diaspora. The
abandoning of Jerusalem on the part of the Christians before its
destruction estranged the relationship between the Jews and the
Christians. The malediction of the Christians in the synagogues,
the crruel tortures inflicted on the Christians during the
Barkokeba rebellion, the total destruction of Jerusalem by
Hadrian as well as his interdiction of Jewish worship and of the
Sabbath particularly, are all factors which seem to have played a
determining role in creating a definite break between Judaism
and Christianity. The forsaking of the Sabbath and the adoption
of Sunday are perhaps the most visible aspect of this break with
In the course of this research, various concomitant factors
have emerged to suggest that Rome might be the place of origin of
Sunday observance. The predominance of Christians of pagan
extraction and their conflict with with Jews led, in fact, to a
break with Judaism in Rome even before this occurred in the
Orient. Unpopularity of the Jews in Rome as well as the anti-
Judaic measures taken by the Emperors following their constant
rebellions could have influenced the attirude of the Church of
Rome towards the Sabbath as well as towards the Jewish Passover.
We notice in fact, that in rome the Sabbath was a non-liturgical
day, in which, contrary to the custom of the Eastern and of some
Western Christian communities, it was customary to fast "in order
not to give the impression to observe the Sabbath with the Jews."
And it was also forbidden on that day to celebrate mass.
Furthermore, it was probably in Rome that the Easter-Sunday
originated (at about the time of Pope Sixtus) in order for the
Christians to separate themselves, as Constantine later stated in
his conciliar letter "from the detestable company of the Jews,
for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without
their direction we could not keep this feast." 368
The bishop of Rome exercised in this controversy his
spiritual primacy, enjoining the Eastern
365 Victorinus of Pettau, "De Fabrics mundi" 5, CSEL 49, 5:
366 "Epistola Costantini ad Ecclesiam post Concilium Nicaeum" 2,
PL 8, 501 ; trans. by Hefele, "History Councils," p.322.
communities, particularly those of Asia to align themselves with
the Roman practice. Finally, it is from Rome (through Justin that
we get the first detailed treatment of the celebration of the
Eucharist on Sunday as well as of the repudiation of the Sabbath
considered as the mark of the unfaithfulness of the Jews.
Anti-Judaism After 150
The anti-Judaic motivations for the repudiation of the
Sabbath and the adoption of Sunday that we have encountered in
the writings of Ignatius, Barnabas and Justin are not as explicit
as they are in the subsequent patristic literature. Undoubtedly
the probative value of the later texts is inferior, inasmuch as
they constitute the second moment of reflection on a phenomenon
which had already taken place. However, it might be helpful to
examine a few later texts by way of appendix to the material
considered in this chapter, in order to corroborate the validity
of the conclusions which have emerged.
Origen sees in the manna which did not fall on the Sabbath
day, already at the time of Moses, a preference given by God
Himself to Sunday over the Sabbath:
If then it is certain according to the Scriptures that God
made the manna rain on the Lord's Day and ceased on the
Sabbath, the Jews ought to understand that our Lord's day
was preferred to their Sabbath and it was then indicated
that the grace of God did not in any way descend from heaven
in their Sabbath day, nor the heavenly bread, which is the
Word of God, came to them. ... However on our Sunday the
Lord makes rain continually manna from heaven. 367
In the "Syriac Didascalia" the Sabbath is interpreted as a
"preventive punishment," 388 a perpetual mourning imposed by God
on the Jews in anticipation of the evil which they would have
done to Christ:
He (Moses) knew by the Holy Spirit and it was commanded him
by Almighty God, who knew what the people were to do
367 Origen, "In Exodum Homiliae" GCS 29, 1920, 7, 5; cf. "Epistle
to Diognetus" 4, 5, A Diognete, ed. and trans. H. I. Marrow,
Sources Chretiennes 33 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1965), p.61,
where the author severely criticizes the Jewish superstitions
concerning the observance of new moons, days, feasts, Sabbaths,,
fastings and he adds: "does it give a proof of piety ? It is
rather an indication of foolishness."
368 The term is used by Rordorf, "Sabbat," p.73, fn. 3.
to His Son and His beloved Jesus Christ, as even then they
denied Him in the person of Moses, and said: "Who hath
appointed thee head and judge over us ?" - therefore he
bound them before hand with mourning perpetually, in that he
set apart and appointed the Sabbath for them. For they
deserve to mourn, because they denied their Life and laid
hands upon their Saviour and delivered Him to death.
Wherefore, already from that time there was laid upon them a
mourning for their destruction. 369
It is worth noticing the context of the text just quoted.
It is in fact preceded by the injunction "to fast on Friday,
because thereon the people killed themselves in crucifying our
Saviour; and on the Sabbath also, because it is the sleep of our
Fasting on Friday and Sabbath, which according to Jewish
customs was considered a desecration of the day, 371 is here
enjoined on Christians as a reminder of the evil committed by the
Jews. The text is then followed by a disquisition on the
relationship between actual mourning and Sabbath keeping. The
author of the document, in fact, after having stated that the
Sabbath "was laid upon them as a mourning for their destruction,"
proceeds to prove in a subtle manner that "they likewise who keep
Sabbath imitate mourning." 372
Undoubtedly this was an impressive way to discourage Sabbath
Eusebius attributes the reason for the transference of the
feast of the Sabbath to Sunday to the unfaithfulness of the Jews:
On account of the unfaithfulness of these [Jews] (Greek is
given) the Logos has transferred the feast of the Sabbath to
the rising of the light, and he has transmitted to us, as a
figure of the true rest, the day of the Saviour, the day
which belongs to the Lord, the first day of light, in which
the Saviour of the world, after having accomplished all His
works among men, and obtained victory over death, passed
through the doors of heaven. 373
Regan rightly points out that Eusebius was a a victim of
"gross exageration" in affirming that "it was Christ himself who
instituted the transfer." 374
369 Connolly, "Didascalia Apostolorum" 21, pp.190-191.
370 Loc. cit.
371 See above p.73 ; cf. Barack, "The Sabbath," p.90.
372 Connolly, "Didascalia Apostolorum" 21, p.191.
373 Eusebius, "Commentaria in Psalmos" 91, PG 23, 1169.
374 Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.56
Perhaps Eusebius himself recognized that he had crossed the
limits of the credible, since a few paragraphs later he
contradicts what he had previously said:
Verily, all the rest, all that was prescribed for the
Sabbath, we have transferred to the Lord's Day, inasmuch as
it is the most important, the one which dominates, the first
and the one who has more value than the Sabbath of the Jews
(Greek is given) 375
Canon 29 of the Council of Laodicea (ca. A.D.360) condemns
explicitly the veneration of the Sabbath and enjoins working on
such a day in order to show a special respect for Sunday:
Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but
must work on that day, honouring rather the Lord's day by
resting, if possible, as Christians. However if any shall
be found judaizing, let them be anathema from Christ. 376
These constant depreciations of the Sabbath and condemnation
of "judaizing" on such a day, along with the related appreciation
of Sunday, evidence how the observance of Sunday was felt to be a
clear sign of the separation and dissociation from Judaism. On
the other hand, it is worth noting the fact that in the fourth
century, such Fathers as Atanasius in Alexandria, Cyril in
Jerusalem, Basil in Cappadocia, Chrysostom in Antioch, had to
fight against the observance of the Sabbath on the part of some
This would indicate, as pointed out previously, that the
break with Judaism, in the Orient especially, has been gradual
and difficult to accomplish. 378
375 Eusebius, "Commentaria in Psalmos" 91, PG 23, 1172.
376 Mansi II, pp.569-570; Mansi holds that the Council was held
after 360; see ibid., p.563, fn. 2.
377 Athanasius, "Epist. felt." 14, 5, PG 26, 1421, exhorts his
readers not to fall back again into the ancient shadow. Again in
"Hom. de Sabb. et circum." 5 PG 28, 139, he emphasizes the
replacement of the ancient law of the Sabbath and the
circumcision: cf. also Ps.-Athanasius, "Hom. de semente" 13, PG
28, 162; Cyril, "Catech." 4, 37, PG 33, 502, warns the catechumen
not to fall back into the Jewish or Samaritan religion; Basil,
"Ep." 264, 4, PG 32, 980; "Ep." 265, 2, PG 32, 988, considers as
heretics those who advocate the observance of the Sabbath;
Chrysostom, "Adv. Judaeos" PG 48, 844, 848, 941.
378 Gregory of Nyssa, "Adversus eos qui castigationes aegre
ferunt," PG 46, 309, for instance, considers the two days Sabbath
and Sunday as brothers, and be says: "With which eyes do you look
at the Lord's Day, you who have dishonored the Sabbath? Do you
perhaps ignore that the two days are brothers and that if you
hurt one, you strike at the other?"
This brief survey of a few later texts corroborates the
conclusions which emerged from the examination of the earlier
texts concerning the determining role of anti-Judaism on the
origin of Sunday. We may therefore conclude, in the light of the
present research, that the repudiation of Judaism by some
Christians due, as we have seen, to theological, social and
political motives, created the necessity to evidence their
separation from the Jews, by adopting Sunday as the typically
Christian day of worship, in contradistinction to the Sabbath of
The investigation conducted in this chapter has focused on
the influence of anti-Judaism both on the devaluation of the
Sabbath and on the adoption of Sunday observance by many
Christians. A question however has remained unanswered, namely
why was Sunday and not another day of the week (such as Wednesday
or Friday, for example), chosen to evidence the Christian
separation from Judaism? To answer this question, we shall
examine in the two following chapters, first, the possible
influence of Sun-worship with its related day of the Sun and
secondly the Christian motivations for both the choice and
observance of Sunday.
To be continued
(I have finally uploaded this now unpublished book by
Dr.Bacchiocchi. The next two chapters he refers to I will upload.
They are found in his book "From Sabbath to Sunday").