ANTI-JUDAISM AND SUNDAY #9
Anti-Judaism in the Fathers and the Origin of Sunday
by Sammuele Bacchiocchi PhD
In closing this section on the evaluation of the influence
of anti-Judaism on the origin of Sunday observance, we shall
examine the testimonies of the Fathers of the first half of the
second century. We shall consider specifically the writings of
Ignatius, Barnabas and Justin, principal exponents of this,
period, in order to further verify the influence of anti-Judaism
on the origin of Sunday. The testimonies of these authors assume
a vital importance for the present study, inasmuch as they were
266 Justin's polemical writings against the Jews will be
considered in the next section (see below pp.101f.), but it is
worth noticing that they also were composed in Rome.
267 Batiffol, "Primitive Catholicism," p.227, writes concerning
the excommunication that Pope Victor pronounced against
Polycrates : "The Bishop of Rome condemns their observance of
Easter as a usage that is against the Canon of the Apostolic
faith, and he cuts them off, not from the Roman, but from the
Catholic communion. He is conscious then, that such a sentence on
his part is legitimate. Irenaeus protests against the
excommunication of the Asiatics, it is true, but he does not
dream of questioning Victor's power to pronounce this
268 Mosna, "Storia della domenica," p.354.
269 See below p.118, fn. 377-378.
and protagonists in that process of separation from Judaism which
led to the depreciation of the Sabbath and to the adoption of
According to Irenaeus, 270 Ignatius was bishop of Antioch at the
time of Trajan (A.D.98-117). The bishop argues "against the
Judaizing tendencies of his territory, which, not far
geographically from Palestine, had suffered the influences of the
synagogue and of the Judeo-Christians." 271 His language
suggests that the separation from Judaism was in process, even
though the ties with Judaism had not yet been severed. Rordorf
observes that "the real importance of this passage [Magnesians 9,
1] from Ignatius, however, is that it provides contemporary
evidence that many Gentile Christians were being tempted to
observe the Sabbath." 272
Ignatius in fact offers a valid testimony for a more
tenacious survival and veneration in the East of such Jewish
institutions as the Sabbath as compared with the West. It is
worth noticing that even though Ignatius underlines the necessity
of a dissociation from the Jewish way of living, he does not go
so far as to condemn the Sabbath as does Justin or Barnabas. 273
In his Epistle to the Magnesians 8,1,2, he writes: "For if we are
still practicing Judaism, we admit that we have not received
God's favor. For the most divine prophets lived in accordance
with Jesus Christ." 274
In chapter 9,1 he speaks of these Old Testament prophets
"who lived in ancient ways" and who "attained a new hope, no
longer sabbatizing - but living according to the Lord's life (or
Lord's day) (Greek is given here - Keith Hunt)". Even though some
interpret this text as referring to the Judeo-Christians who had
only recently abandoned the Jewish customs and adhered to the
Church, 275 in the examination of the text, 276 we have seen that
the prophets are the subject
270 Irenaeus, "Adversus haereses" 5,28,4, PG 7, 1200-1201.
271 Mosna, "Storia della domenica," p.95.
272 Rordorf, "Sunday," p.140.
273 See discussion that follows.
274 "The Apostolic Fathers," trans. E.J.Goodspeed (New York:
Harper and Brothers, 1950), p.215. (Hereafter cited as Goodspeed,
275 Rordorf, "Sunday," p.140 writes for instance: "We must,
therefore conclude that in Mag. 9, 1, Ignatius is referring to
Jewish Christian, who a short time, previously had fully attached
themselves to the main body of the church, which was composed
largely of Gentile Christians, and in so doing they had given up
their Jewish customs."
276 The text has been examined in chap.3, section 2.
of the discussion. The verb itself "(Greek is given - Keith
Hunt)" (came or attained) implies an action completed in the past
(II Aorist). The transla-tion of Bosio, for instance, "have
addressed themselves to the new hope," 277 is rather free and
interpretative. In fact, he interprets the expression "those who
lived in the ancient order of things "as" the Jews, who used to
live according to the Mosaic law, "but who recently" have
addressed themselves to the new hope." 278 He employes therefore
the present perfect to indicate their recent acceptance of
Christianity. The majority of translators, however, employ the
past tense. 278 Goodspeed, for example., translates "attained a
new hope" 280 implying a clear reference to the prophets who are
being spoken of in the context. Besides, in the following verse
(9, 2) Ignatius concludes by referring again to the prophets as
being "his disciples in the spirit" and who "looked forward [to
Him] as their teacher." 281
This concept of a spiritual Christian movement within the
Old Testament, of which the prophets are exponents and examples,
may seem to us unrealistic, but is indicative of the profound
respect of the author for the Old Testament. Regan writes in this
Ignatius' insistence on the role of the prophets in
preparing the way for Christ and the Church, evidences the
prevailing spirit of the authors of Christian Antiquity in
their deep rever ence for these saintly characters of the
Old Testament and their inspired message. 282
In this context the "sabbatizing" which Ignatius condemns,
the light of the conduct of the prophets, could hardly be the
repudiation of the Sabbath as a day, but as R.B.Lewis asserts
"the keeping of the Sabbath in a certain manner - Judaizing." 283
277 Guido Bosio, "I Padri Apostolici," Corona Patrum Salesiana
(Turin Paidea, 1942), 2:76.
278 Loc. cit., fn. 1.
279 C.J.Hefele, "Patrum Apostolicorum Opera" (Tubingen: Henrici
Laupp, 1892), p.138, translates "pervenerunt"; the same
translation is found in F.X.Funk, "Opera Patrum Apostolorum"
(Tubingen: H. Laupp, 1887), p.199; T. Zahn, "Ignatii et Polycarpi
Epistolae Martyria Fragmenta" (Leipzig: Doichert, 1876), p.37.
280 Goodspeed, "Apostolic Fathers," p.215; Kirsopp Lake, "The
Apostolic Fathers" (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1919), 1: 206,
similarly translates "came to a new hope."
281 Goodspeed, "Apostolic Fathers," pp.215, 216.
282 Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.26.
283 R.B.Lewis, "Ignatius and the Lord's Day," AUSS, 6 (1968) :
"The contrast here then is not," as K.Strand aptly points out,
"between days as such, but between ways of life -- between the
Jewish 'sabbatizing' way of life and the newness of life
symbolized for the Christian by Christ's resurrection." 284
This is the sense which is explicitly given to the text in the
so-called "long recension" of the same Epistle:
Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish
manner, and rejoice in days of idleness. ... But let every
one of you keep the Sabbath in a spiritual manner, rejoicing
in the meditation on the law, not in the relaxation of the
body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things
prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, nor
walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in
dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. 285
Ignatius emphasizes repeatedly the necessity of making a
distinct separation from the Jewish customs. In "Magnesians" 10,
3 he writes: "It is wrong to talk about Jesus Christ and live
like the Jews. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism but
Judaism in Christianity." 281, In his letter to the
Philadelphians 6, 1 similarly the author reasserts: "If any one
expounds Judaism to you, do not listen to him. For it is better
to hear Christianity from a man who is circumcised than Judaism
from one who is uncircumcised." 287
These frequent recommendations to abandon the practice of
Judaism imply a strong Jewish leaning within the Christian
communities of Asia Minor. It is unlikely therefore to imagine
that in this climate the abandoning of the Sabbath and the
adoption of Sunday had already taken place. On the other hand,
the condemnation of such Jewish practices as "sabbatizing," that
is, the observance of the Sabbath in the manner of the Jews, and
the exhortation "to live according to the life of the Lord,"
constituted a valid motivation that would lead, in the course of
time, to the adoption not only of a way of life but even of a day
of worship which would be different from the one of the Jews. The
introduction of Sunday keeping in the Eastern communities would
then fall within that process of differentiation
284 Kenneth A. Strand, "Three Essays on Early Church," p.45.
285 Pseudo-Ignatius, "Epistle to the Magnesians" 9, ANF 1 :62-63;
cf. also PG 5, 767.
286 Goodspeed, "Apostolic Fathers," p.216.
287 Ibid., p.226.
from Judaism, which became necessary for the reasons discussed
earlier. Whether or not Sunday was already observed by any or by
few or by many in the province of Asia at the time of Ignatius
(ca. A.D.115) is hard to prove by the problematic passage of
Magnesians 9, 1 alone. The key sentence "living according to the
Lord's life (or Lord's day)" has been subjected to considerable
scrutiny in recent times by various scholars. 288 Fritz Guy,
after a careful textual analysis, particularly of a possible
cognate accusative construction, concludes that the text of
Ignatius is ambiguous and therefore "in the study of the 'Lord's
day' in the early Christian church ... cannot at the present time
properly be introduced as evidence indicating its [Sunday]
observance." 289 We have noticed, 290 however, (1) that in the
oldest Greek extant manuscript (Codex Mediceus Laurentinus) the
noun "life" is present, while the substantive "day" must be
either inserted or implied if a cognate accusative was intended;
(2) that the context clearly reveals that those who were "no
longer sabbatizing" were not the Gentile or Judeo-Christians, as
some scholars hold, but the ancient prophets, who though
historically living in Judaism, nevertheless were not judaizing,
but already "lived in accordance with Jesus Christ" (8: 2). The
fact that Ignatius urged the Christians to stop "practicing
Judaism" (8: 1) or "living like the Jews" (10: 3) and that he
condemned specifically their "sabbatizing" (9: 1), would seem to
imply that many Christians were still following traditional
Jewish customs, especially in the matter of Sabbath keeping. If
such were the case, it would hardly seem reasonable to suppose
that at that time the Christians in Asia had already radically
abandoned the Sabbath and were observing solely Sunday. On the
other hand, it must be admitted that Ignatius, by urging the
Christians to differentiate themselves from the Jews by
abandoning their customs, offers us significant insight on how
anti-Judaizing attitudes and efforts could have contributed to
the origin of Sunday. It should be remembered, however, that in
the East the break between Judaism and Christianity was gradual,
and never radical, probably on account of the constant influx of
converts from the synagogue, which contributed to maintaining, a
constant admiration toward Jewish
288 Ignatius' text is analyzed above in chapter three, section
two. See there for significant studies.
289 Fritz Guy, "Lord's Day in the Letter of Ignatius to the
Magnesians," AUSS 2 (1964): 17.
290 See, chapter 3, section 2.
institutions such as the Sabbath. Numerous Eastern Fathers, in
fact, fought constantly against the Sabbath which many Christians
seem to have observed in addition to Sunday. 291
The Epistle of Barnabas, dated by the majority of scholars
between 130 and 138, was written by a pseudonymous Barnabas
probably at Alexandria, a cosmopolitan cultural center, where the
conflict between Jews and Christians was particularly acute. 292
Lightfoot writes in this regard:
The picture ... which it presents of feuds between Jews and
Christians is in keeping with the state of the population of
that city [Alexandria], the various elements of which were
continually in conflict. 293
Two major reasons make the epistle important for our present
investigation. First, because it does contain the first explicit
reference to the observance of Sunday, denominated is "eighth
day." Secondly, because it reveals how the social and
theological polemics and tensions which existed at that time
between Jews and Christians played a key role in the devaluation
of the Sabbath and adoption of Sunday by many Christians.
A careful reading of the Epistle of Barnabas reveals that
the author purposed to demonstrate the total repudiation of
Judaism as a true religion. While Ignatius condemns "Judaizing"
on the part of some Christians, Barnabas totally rejects
"Judaism" both as a theological and a social system. James Parkes
The whole of the epistle of Barnabas is an exposition of the
Church as the true Israel. It is heresy even to try and
share the good things of promise with the Jews. In tones of
unusual gravity, and with a special appeal, the author warns
his hearers against such mistaken generosity. 294
291 See above p.82 and below p.118, fn. 377-378.
292 The place and date of composition of the Epistle of Barnabas
is discussed above chapter 3, section 3; for a concise treatment
of the question, see Quasten, "Patrology" 1: 90-91; cf. also
Goodspeed, "Apostolic Fathers," p.19; William H. Shea, "The
Sabbath in the Epistle of Barnabas," AUSS 4 (July 1966): 150;
Lightfoot, "The Apostolic Fathers," part 1, vol.1, p.349; A.L.
Williams, "The Date of the Epistle of Barnabas," Journal of
Theological Studies 34 (1933): 337-346; H. Lietzmann, "The
Beginning of the Christian Church" (New York: Charles Scribner's
Sons, 1937), p.294.
293 J.B.Lightfoot, "The Apostolic Fathers" (London: Macmillan
Co., 1926), p.240.
294 Parkes, "The Conflict," p.84.
A. Harnack perceives that the polemic of Barnabas is directed
against the Judaizing Christians:
His polemics are, above all, directed against Judaizing
Christians. In no other writing of that early time is the
separation of Gentile Christians from patriotic Jews so
clearly brought out. ... He is thorough anti-Judaist....295
Barnabas in fact categorically condemns those Christians who
leaned toward a position of compromise with the Jews, saying
"Take heed to yourself and be not like some, piling up your sins
and saying that the covenant is theirs as well as ours. It is
ours, but they lost it completely just after Moses received it.
..." (4,6-7). In order to persuade these Judaizing Christians to
abandon Jewish beliefs and practices, Barnabas launched a twofold
attack against the Jews: 1. he defamed them as a people and 2. he
emptied their religious beliefs and practices of any historical
validity by allegorizing their meaning. As a people the Jews are
described as "wretched men" (16, 1) who were deluded by an evil
angel (9, 5) and who "were abandoned" by God because of their
ancient idolatry (4,14). They drove "his prophets to death" (5,
12) and they crucified Christ "setting him at naught and piercing
him and spitting upon him" (7, 19). Concerning the fundamental
Jewish beliefs, Barnabas endeavors to demonstrate that they do
not apply literally to the Jews, since they have a deeper
allegorical meaning which finds its fulfillment in Christ and in
the spiritual experience of the Christians. W.H. Shea has
synthesized in seven points Barnabas' systematic attack against
the fundamental Jewish beliefs:
1. The Sacrificial System: The sacrifices along with other
types, prophecies, and allegorically interpreted Scriptures find
their fulfillment in the life, death, and work of Christ. (Chs.
2, 5, 7, 8, 12)
2. The Covenant: The covenant made by God with the Jews at Mt.
Sinai was broken by their idolatry there, and it was never
reoffered to them. (Chs. 4, 13, 14)
295 "Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge," 1908
ed., s.v. "Barnabas" by A. Harnack; see also Constantin von
Tischendorf, "Codex Sinaiticus," ed. 8 (London: The Lutterworth
Press, n.d.), p.66, who similarly points out: "It is addressed to
those Christians who, coming out of Judaism, desired to retain,
under the Now Testament, certain pecularities of the Old...."
3. The Promised land: "The land of milk and honey" does not
apply to the possession of the literal Canaan by the Hebrews, but
to the Christian's present spiritual experience and his future
reward. (Ch. 6)
4. Circinncision: The true circtuncision is that of the ears
and heart of the Christian. Circumcision of the Jews is abolished
and when first given to Abraham was to look forward to Jesus on
the cross.( Ch. 9)
5. The Levitical Laws: The clean and unclean animals are
interpreted as representing the spiritual classes of men in the
world. "Moses spake it in spirit ... with this intent." (Ch.10)
6. The Sabbath: The Fourth Commandment does not apply to a
weekly holy day, but to a future seventh millennium. (Ch. 15)
7. The Temple: The literal Temple in Jertusalem was destroyed
and abolished. The true temple is the Christian in whom God
dwells. (Ch. 16). 296
This attempt of Barnabas to demolish the historical validity
of Judaism could make one suspect that he is a victim and
exponent of the anti-Judaic heresies of the second century. But
an analysis of his theology would indicate otherwise. In fact
Lightfoot comments: "The writer is an uncompromising antagonist
of Judaism, but beyond this antagonism he has nothing in common
with the anti-Judaic heresies of the second century." 297
similarly W.B. Shea observes that "on many of the cardinal
beliefs of Christendom the author is quite orthodox." 298
The repudiation and the separation from Judaism on the part
of Barnabas represent, then, not the expression of an heretical
movement, but a necessity felt by the Christian community of
Alexandria. We should recognize, however, that the author employs
an allegorical method and reveals an extreme attitude which is
not the expression of more representative Christianity. Lebreton
aptly comments: "By his anti-Jewish polemic, he testifies, not
296 W.H. Shea, " he Sabbath in the Epistle of Barnabas," A USS 4
297 J.B. Lightfoot, "The Apostolic Fathers" (London: Macmillan
Co., 1926), p.239; Lebreton-Zeiller, "Primitive Church," p.442
points out that while Barnabas condemns "the Jewish legalism,"
Marcion will attack directly "the very author of the Law,"
striking in such a way "not only the Jews ... but also their
298 Shea, art. sit., p.151; see fn. 10, where the author
enumerates the fundamental orthodox Christian doctrines found in
the writing of Barnabas.
indeed to the deep thought of the Church, but, at least, to the
danger which Judaism constituted for it, and the Church's
reaction to the danger." 299 The same author offers a reasonable
explanation for the vigorous reaction of Barnabas against the
danger of Judaism.
We must remark in conclusion that this Jewish danger and the
strong reaction against it, can be explained by what we know of
the great influence of the Jews at Alexandria: previous to the
Christian preaching this great influence is shown by the life and
work of Philo; in the first centuries of the Christian era it
continued and threatened the church: it was at Alexandria above
all that the apocryphal Gospels, with their Judaizing tendencies,
were read. 300
Facing the danger of this Judaizing tendency within, the
Church, Barnabas launched his attack against certain Jewish
practices and ceremonies, defending "the radical thesis which the
Church never approved, and the danger of which will soon be
revealed by Marcion, that the old alliance never existed as a
positive law willed by God.... " 301
The depreciation of the Sabbath and the introduction of the
eighth day is part of this attempt which the author makes to
destroy the strongholds of Judaism. Let us consider briefly the
argumentation advanced in chapter 15 302 to repudiate the Sabbath
and to justify the eighth day:
(1) The rest of the seventh day is an eschatological rest to be
realized at the end of time (vv. 4-5).
(2) The sanctification of the Sabbath is impossible for man at
the present time, but it will be accomplished in a future age
(3) The present Sabbaths are not acceptable to the Lord, but only
the one which is future, which will mark the beginning of the new
world, that is the eighth day (v.8).
With these arguments Barnabas, "utilizing this weapon of
allegorical exegesis," 303 empties the Sabbath of all its
299 Lebreton-Zeiller, "Primitive Church" p.442.
300 Ibid., p.443, fn. 10.
301 Ibid., p.441.
302 The chapter is quoted in full in chapter 3, section 3.
303 Lebreton-Zeiller, "Primitive Church," p.441; the author
observes that "Barnabas was only following the example of
numerous Jewish exegetes, who likewise allegorized the Law."
(Loc. cit.) Cf. Philo, "De migr. Abrah.," 89.
the present age, endeavoring to defend the church from the
influence of a Jewish institution so important as the Sabbath.
As we already noticed in the study of this chapter, 304 the
effort that Barnabas makes to supersede the Sabbath with these
intricate allegorical and eschatological argumentations is an im-
plicit recognition of the influence that the Sabbath was still
exerting in the Christian communlity of Alexandria. Barnabas
inserts the eighth day as an appendix to the discussion on the
Sabbath, presenting two justifications for its "observance."
(1) The eighth day is the prolongation of the eschatological
Sabbath: that is, after the end of the present age symbolized by
the Sabbath, the eighth day marks "the beginning of another
world" (v. 8). "This is why we spend (Greek given) even 305
(Greek given) the eighth day with rejoicing" (v.9).
(2) The eighth day is "also" 306 (Greek given) [the day] on
which Jesus rose from the dead" (v 9).
The first theological motivation for the observance of
Sunday is of an eschatological nature. The eighth day, in fact,
represents "the beginning of a new world." It is here that the
incoherence of the author--perhaps acceptable at that time
--appears. While, on the other hand, he repudiates the present
Sabbath inasmuch as this would have a millennaristic-
eschatological significance, on the other hand he justifies the
observance of the eighth day by the same eschatological reasons
advanced previously to abrogate the Sabbath. The resurrection of
Jesus is presented as the second or the additional motivation,
probably because it was not yet seen as the primary reason. This
intricate and irrational argumentation is perhaps indicative, as
Mosna perceives, "of the effort which Judeo-Christians were
making to justify their worship." 307
We seem to perceive in Barnabas' effort to justify the
"observance" of the eighth day more as a continuation of the
eschatological Sabbath - in spite of his sharp anti-Judaism --
rather than as a commemoration of the resurrection, the timid and
uncertain beginning of Sunday keeping. The theology and
terminology of Sunday are still dubious. There is no mention of
any gathering nor of any Eucharistic celebration. The eighth day
is simply the prolongation of the eschatological Sabbath to which
is united the memory of the resurrection.
304 See above chapter 3, section 3. 305 Italics mine.
305 Italics mine.
306 Italics mine.
307 Mosna, "Storia della domenica," p.26.
To be continued