FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY
THE EIGHTH DAY #2 continued
by Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD
The fact that Sunday could be viewed as the eighth day "with
reference to those preceding" 26 does not explain why such a
name became so popular a designation for Sunday until about the
fifth century. The task of tracing its origin is not an easy one,
because, as A.Quacquarelli observes, "the octave [i.e., the
eighth] provided the Fathers with material for continuous new
W.Rordorf proposes that "Sunday came to be associated with
the number eight because baptism was administered on Sunday and
we know that baptism was early connected with the symbolism
associated with the number eight." 28 While it is true that
baptism came to be regarded as the fulfillment of the typology of
the eighth day of the circumcision and of the eight souls saved
from the waters of the flood, this connection, however, is not
common in the writings of the Fathers before the fourth century.
Eusebius (d. ca. A.D.340), to our knowledge, is the first to
explain explicitly that:
the ogdoad is the Lord's day of the resurrection of the
Saviour when we believe that the cleansing of all our sins
took place. It was on that day that children were
symbolically circumcised, but that in reality the whole soul
which is born of God is purified by baptism. 29
This theme of the baptismal resurrection, built on the
typology of the circumcision and of the story of the flood,
occurs again in the fourth century in several texts 30 and it
26 See fn. 24.
27 A.Quacquarelli, "L'Ogdoade Cristiana e i suoi riflessi nella
liturgia e nei monuments," 1973, p.45.
28 W.Rordorf, "Sunday," p.277. In the New Testament a typological
relationship is established between the circumcision and baptism,
but there are no allusions to the significance of the eighth day
per se; see Col.2:11-13; cf. O.Cullmann, "Baptism in the New
Testament," 1950, pp.56ff.
29 Eusebius, "Commentaria in Psalmos" 6, PG 23, 120A.
30 Ambrose, "Expositio Psalmi" 118, 2:1-3, CSEL 62. 4f., teaches
that the eighth day of the circumcision is the symbol of baptism,
the spiritual circumcision inaugurated at the first Easter; cf.
also "De Abraham" 2, 11, 79, CSEL 32, 631; Gregory of Nyssa, "De
octavo," PA 44, 608-609; Athanasius, De sabbatis et
circumcisione, PG 28, 140C-14113; Chrysostom, "De circumcisione,"
PA 50, 867D.
rise to the octagonal shape of Christian fonts and baptistries.
"At this moment," however, as J.Danielou points out, "we are very
far from its relationship to Sunday." 31 In earlier texts the
eighth day of the circumcision and the eight persons saved from
the flood are regarded primarily as a prefiguration of the
resurrection of Christ on Sunday. Justin Martyr (ca. A.D.100-ca.
165), for instance, interprets the eight persons of the ark as
"symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose
from the dead, for ever the first in power." 32 Cyprian (c. A.D.
258) flatly rejects the suggestion that children should be
baptized on the eighth day in accord with the ancient custom of
the circumcision, because, he maintains, "the eighth-day, that is
to say, the first after the Sabbath, was to be that day on which
the Lord would resurrect and vivify us and give to us the
spiritual circumcision." 33 Origen (ca. A.D. 185-ca. 254)
similarly views the eighth day as the symbol of the resurrection
of Christ which provided an immediate and global circumcision,
namely the baptismal purification of the world. He writes:
Before the arrival of the eighth day of the Lord Jesus
Christ the whole world was impure and uncircumcised. But
when the eighth day of the resurrection came, immediately we
were cleansed, buried, and raised by the circumcision of
In these texts the circumcision is not associated with
Sunday baptismal ceremony, but rather with the event itself of
the resurrection, to which is attributed cleansing power.
Moreover, baptism was not administered in the primitive Church
exclusively on Sunday. Tertullian (ca. A.D. 160-ca. 225) in his
treatise "On Baptism," while he recommended Passover and
31 J.Danielou (fn. 22) p.88.
32 Justin, "Dialogue" 128, ANF l, p.268; cf. Dialogue 41, ANF 1,
p.215: "The command of circumcision, again, bidding them always
to circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the
true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and
iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day
after the Sabbath"; cf. "Dialogue" 23.
33 Cyprian, "Carthaginense Concilium sub Cypriano tertium" 3, 3,
1. PL 3, 1053; cf. "Epistola" 64 CSEL 3, 719.
34 Origen, "Selecta in Psalmos" 118, PG 12, 1588.
the most suitable times for baptism, also admits that "every day
is the Lord's, every hour, every time is apt for baptism." 35
More plausible appears the explanation that the "eighth day"
became a designation for Sunday as a result of prevailing chili-
astic-eschatological speculation on the sevenday creation week,
sometimes called "cosmic week." In contemporary Jewish
apocalyptic literature the duration of the world was commonly
subdivided into seven periods (or millennia) of which the seventh
generally represented paradise restored." 36 At the end of the
seventh period would dawn the eternal new aeon which, though not
so designated, could readily be viewed as "the eighth day," since
it was the continuation of the seventh.
These speculations were common in Christian circles as well.
37 In the Slavonic "Secrets of Enoch," for instance (an
apocryphonof the Old Testament interpolated by Jewish Christians
toward the end of the first century) we find not only the
35 Tertullian, "On Baptism" 19, ANF 111, p.678.
36 W.Rordorf, "Sunday," pp.48-51, provides a concise summary and
an illustrative chart of the prevailing eschatological
interpretations of the cosmic week found in late Jewish
apocalyptic literature. The eschatological Sabbath, usually
viewed as a seventh millennium which would follow the present age
(measured in six millennia) was interpreted according to three
basic variants: (1) paradise restored, (2) an empty time of
silence which would follow the Messianic age and precede the new
age and (3) an interim period of the Messiah which marks the
anticipation of the new world. These divergent interpretations
are indicative of the keen interest in late Judaism and in New
Testament times, for eschatological-chiliastic problems. F.A.
Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.212, comments in this regard: "The
Judaic preoccupations with the millennium ... gained a wide
following during the New Testament era and the centuries
immediately preceding it. The coming of the Messianic age, the
so-called 'days of the Messiah' with its transition between 'this
world' and 'that world to come' as well as the 'end of days' were
terms that dotted the vocabulary of the age"; cf. J.L.McKenzie,
"The Jewish World in New Testament Times," "A Catholic Commentary
on the Holy Scriptures," 1953, ed. 738f.; J.Bonsirven, "Judaisme
Palestinien au temps de Jesus Christ," 1935, pp.341f.
37 In the Oriental tradition, as we shall see, the Biblical week
was usually interpreted as representing the whole duration of the
world in contrast to the eighth day of eternity. In the Western
tradition, however, the cosmic week was interpreted historically
as representing succession of specific time periods; cf.
Irenaeus, "Adversus haereses" 5,28,3; 5,33,2; Hippolytus, "In
Danielem commentarius" 4,23-24; Tertullian, "Adversus Marcionem"
4,39; "De anima" 37,4; see J.Danielou, "La typologie millenariste
de la semaine dans le christianisme primitif," "Vigiliae
christianae," (1948): 1-16.
seven-day millennia scheme, 38 but also the first explicit
designation of the new aeon as "the eighth day":
And I appointed the eighth day also, that the eighth day
should be the first created after my work and that the first
seven should revolve in the form of seven thousand, and that
at the beginning of the eighth thousand there should be a
time of no-counting, endless, with neither years nor months
nor weeks nor days nor hours. 39
This eschatological symbol of the eighth day as a type of
the new eternal world apparently appealed to those Christians who
were trying to break away from the Sabbath, since it prvided them
with a weighty argument to justify their choice and observance of
Sunday. In "The Epistle of Barnabas" (ca. A.D.135) we find the
first instance of this usage. Here the teaching of the "Book of
Enoch" concerning the cosmic week followed by the eighth day is
polemically employed to repudiate the Sabbath and to justify
Sunday observance. 40
Barnabas interprets the six days of creation as meaning
"that in six thousand years the
38 See. J.Quasten, "Patrology," 1950, 1, p.109. The prevailing
interpretation of the millennium as a thousand years reign of
Christ and of His saints upon the earth, was based upon a
misinterpretation of Revelation 20:1f. It was believed that
"during this time, intervening before the final end of the world,
there would be a superabundance of spiritual peace and harmony
... It can be easily seen how such a theory would fit into a
formulation of a Christian world-day-week" (F.A.Regan, "Dies
39 "Enoch 33:7, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old
Testament," ed. R.H.Charles, 1913, 11, p.451. This millenarian
interpretation of the week possibly derived from another
apocryphal work, the "Book of Jubilees." Mario Erbetta comments
on this regard: "From the fact that Adam did not attain to the
age of one thousand years, Jubilees 4:30 concludes that the
prophecy of Genesis 2:17 ("In the day that you eat of it you
shall die") was effectively fulfilled. It is clear that such way
of reasoning must have led, already before the Christian era, to
suppose that one day of the world was equivalent to one thousand
years. The transition to a world week of 7000 years: 6000 from
creation to judgment and 1000 of rest, did not require much
acumen" ("Gli Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento," 1969, III, p.31,
fn. 67); cf. F.A.Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.215; P.Prigent, "Les
Testimonia dans le christianisme primitif." "L'Epitre de
Barnabe" I-XVI "et ses sources," 1961, pp.65-71, argues for the
presence of the notion of the eighth day already in Jewish
40 F.A.Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.215: "The dependency of the
author of the Epistle of Barnabas is also quite evident. In the
fifteenth chapter, verse four of this work we have an exposition
of II Enoch 32:2-33."
Lord will bring all things to an end, for a day with him means a
thousand years" (15:4). The seventh day, he explains, represents
the return of Christ that will put an end to the reign "of the
lawless one and judge the ungodly and change the sun and moon and
stars, then he will rest well on the seventh day" (15:5).
Therefore, he argues, the sanctification of the Sabbath is
impossible at the present time, but it will be accomplished in
that future age (seventh millennium) "when there is no more
disobedience, but all things have been made new by the Lord"
(15:6-7). Barnabas then closes making a renewed attempt to
disqualify the observance of the Sabbath for the present age and
to present instead the "eighth day" as a valid substitution:
Further he says to them, "Your new moons and Sabbaths I
cannot endure." You see what he means: it is not the present
Sabbaths that are acceptable to me, but the one that I have
made, on which having brought everything to rest, I will
make the beginning of an eighth day, that is, the beginning
of another world. This is why we also observe the eighth day
with rejoicing, on which Jesus also rose from the dead, and
having shown himself ascended to heaven. 41
This cosmic-eschatological symbolism of the eighth day
employed by Barnabas to justify the observance of Sunday is
constantly reiterated and elaborated by numerous Fathers. This
bespeaks a widespread tradition that speculated on the duration
of the world by means of the cosmic week. The existence of such
speculation could readily have encouraged the choice of the
"eighth day" because as symbol of eternity it not only provided a
valid justification for Sunday observance, but, in the polemic
against Sabbath-keepers, offered also an effective apologetic
argument. 42 In fact, as symbol of the eternal new world, the
eighth day far surpassed the seventh day which symbolized the
kingdom of one thousand years in this transitory world.
Continuation of Sabbath
Some scholars suggest that Sun-
41 "The Epistle of Barnabas" 15:8-9, trans. Edgar J.Goodspeed,
"The Apostolic Fathers," 1950, p.41.
42 Since Jewish Christians belonged to those Jewish apocalyptic
circles (see J.Danielou, fn. 22, p.71) who attributed great
importance to calendric speculations, it is easy to understand
why in the controversy between Sabbath-keepers and
Sunday-keepers, the latter capitalized on the eschatological
value of the eighth day, inasmuch as being a symbol of the
eternal new world, Sunday could devaluate the meaning and role of
day was denominated "eighth day" because it originated as a
continuation of the Sabbath services which extended into Sunday
time. 43 According to Jewish reckoning, the first day of the
week began on Saturday evening at sunset. Any worship conducted
at that time could readily have been regarded as a continuation
of the Sabbath services. Christians who gathered for worship on
Saturday night could then have coined the denomination "eighth
day," to signify that their worship was the prolongation of that
of the Sabbath. Barnabas suggests this possibility. We noticed
that he defends the eighth day more as a continuation of the
eschatological Sabbath than as a commemoration of the
resurrection. The irrationality is striking since Barnabas
justifies the observance of the eighth day by the very same
eschatological reasons advanced previously to abrogate the
Sabbath. This effort does suggest however that the "eighth day"
(as implied by the number) was viewed at that time not as a
substitution but as an addition to the Sabbath. Note that
Barnabas says, "This is why we also (Greek) observe the eighth
day." The adjunctive "also" presupposes that the Sabbath still
enjoyed recognition, in spite of the prevailing efforts to
invalidate it. 44 It is possible, therefore, that Sunday
43 J.Danielou (fn. 22.), p.70; the passage is quoted below, see
fn. 45; Jean Gaillard, "Le Dimanche jour sacre," "Cahiers de la
vie spirituelle" 76, 1947, p.524: "Initially Sunday was a
Christian complement of the Sabbath, without any thought of
supplanting the traditional sacred day of the Jews "; H.
Riesenfeld, "Sabbat et jour du Seigneur," "New Testament Essay"
"Studies in Memory" of T.W.Manson, 1958, pp.210-217, suggests
that initially Christians assembled for worship on Saturday
evening and later the meeting was shifted to Sunday morning; cf.
H. Leclerq, "Dimanche," DACL, col. 1523; C.F.D.Moule, "Worship in
the New Testament," 1961, p.16. It is possible that Saturday
evening was reckoned as Sunday time not only by the Jews but by
Christians as well. Augustine, for instance, referring to the
vigil of Easter-Sunday, explicitly states: "Then in the evening
as the Sabbath was over, began the night which belongs to the
beginning of the Lord's day, since the Lord consecrated it by the
glory of the resurrection. Therefore we celebrate now the solemn
memory of that night which belongs to the beginning of the Lord's
day" (S.Guelf. 5, 4, "Miscellanea Augustiniana" I, p.460; cf.
"Epistola" 36, 28, CSEL 34,57).
***(READ AGAIN what Augustine said!! If you have studied my
writings on the subject of WHEN Christ was resurrected, you will
know He was resurrected on Saturday EVENING, AFTER SUNSET, AFTER
THE SABBATH WAS OVER, HENCE A 1ST DAY RESURRECTION, BUT IN THE
EVENING OF WHAT WE WOULD CALL SATURDAY EVENING. JESUS TYPIFIED
THE WAVE SHEAF CUTTING, DONE AFTER THE SABBATH WAS OVER, THEN
THE COUNTING FOR PENTECOST WAS STARTED ON THAT FIRST DAY OF THE
WEEK DURING THE PASSOVER/UNLEAVENED BREAD FEAST. Now the words of
Augustine take on VIVID meaning. The truth was KNOWN in those
centuries that Jesus rose from the dead AFTER the Sabbath, in the
evening of Saturday evening or the evening of the first day of
the week - Keith Hunt)***
C.S.Mosna, "Storia della domenica," pp.46,59, observes that
Sabbath evening was "a favorable time" for a Christian gathering,
since it followed the rest of the Sabbath and Christians at that
time were free to meet.
44 C.S.Mosna, "Storia della domenica," p.26, perceives in this
"the effort which Judaeo-Christians were making to justify their
worship"; see above p.222 for a discussion of the passage.
was initially denominated "eighth day" because, as J.Danielou
realistically explains, the Judaeo-Christians
who celebrated the Sabbath, the seventh day, as the rest of
the Jews, after the Sabbath, they prolonged the Jewish
liturgy with the specifically Christian eucharistic cult.
This was regarded by the Christian community as the
continuation of the Sabbath, that is of the seventh day. It
was therefore only natural that they should consider it as
eighth day, even though in the calendar it continued to be
the first day of the week. And the feelings which Christians
had to succeed to Judaism, of which the Sabbath was a
symbol, must have contributed to confirm this impression. 45
Superiority of Eighth Day.
In the growing conflict between the Church and the Synagogue
and between Sabbath-keepers the eighth day came to be dissociated
from the Sabbath. Its rich symbology became widely used primarily
as a polemic argument to prove the fulfillment, the substitution,
and the supersedure of Judaism and of its Sabbath as well as the
superiority of Christianity and of its Sunday. To accomplish this
objective, the Old and the New Testament were searched for
references (so called Testimonia) which would denigrate the
Sabbath and provide some theological justification for the eighth
day. Barnabas indicates that this process had already begun. He
endeavors not only to find theological justifications for the
eighth day, but also attempts to invalidate the observance of the
Sabbath, by quoting, among other texts, Isaiah 1:13: "Further he
says to them, 'Your new moons and Sabbaths I cannot endure.' You
see what he means: it is not the present Sabbaths that are
acceptable to me" (15:8).
Barnabas' initial endeavor to exhalt the superiority of the
eighth day at the expense of the seventh is carried on by several
Fathers who enriched this teaching with new testimonia and
arguments. Justin Martyr (ca. A.D.100 ca.165), for instance,
extrapolates from the Scriptures some new interesting "proofs" to
show that "the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import,
which the seventh did not possess." 46 The eighth day of the
circumcision, the eight persons saved from the flood and possibly
the fifteen cubits (seven plus eight) of the flood-waters which
rose above all mountains are arbitrarily interpreted as
45 J.Danielou (fn. 22), p.70.
46 Justin, "Dialogue" 24, 1. Falls, "Justin's Writings," p.183.
prefiguration of the justification for the observance of the
To be continued