Did Constantine Abolish the Sabbath?
According to the World Mission Society Church of God, the Roman Emperor Constantine abolished the Sabbath in 321 A.D at the First Council of Nicea. On the official USA site, the WMSCOG quotes Constantine as stating, “All judges, city-people and craftsmen shall rest on the venerable day of the Sun.” However, given the WMSCOG’s history of poorly interpreting Scripture, and their distortion of other author’s works as proven here, we feel their interpretation of history probably deserves a little closer examination as well.
Sunday Observance In Scripture
Immediately after the resurrection of Jesus, there was some confusion among the Jewish converts about certain Jewish practices such as circumcision, which particular day of worship to observe, and whether or not to observe the Jewish feasts. We see these issues addressed by the Apostle Paul in many places (e.g. Col 2:14-17, Gal 5:6). While Paul goes to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath in order to evangelize to the Jews (Acts 17:2, 18:4) but gathers with Christian followers on Sunday (Acts 20:7). [Click here to see an in-depth explanation of Acts 20:7]
First We Must Study Church History
And how does one study Church history? By reading historical documents. The writings of Christians throughout the ages have left the academic world with a veritable wealth of knowledge and insight concerning the beliefs and practices of Christians since the time of Jesus Christ. These are easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, and studied heavily in academia and seminaries throughout the world. You can read the writings of the first Christians online for free here, at your local library, or pick up any one of a number of good compendiums available online, or from your favorite bookstore. Now, if you were to click over and read some of these writings, just what would they say?
Sunday Observance In The Early Church
The historical record stands in stark contrast to the claims of the WMSCOG. All of the writings of the first Christians unequivocally claim that Christians were observing Sunday as their day of worship, some 240 years before the Nicean Counsel when the WMSCOG claims that Sunday worship was imposed upon a “Saturday-observant” Christian world. Unfortunately for them, their claim does not hold up with history. You can visit your local library, or purchase any compendium of early Christian writings (such as this one) and read what the first Christians had to say. For instance:
“If they who were concerned in old things, arrived at a newness of hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living according to the Lord’s day, by which our life sprung from him and by his death (whom certain persons deny)…we have been made his disciples, let us live according to Christianity.”
“Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day, also, on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”
“Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness, made the world; and Jesus Christ our savior , on the same day rose from the dead.”
The Didache (considered by all major scholars to be the most authoritative historical writing on early Christianity outside the Bible) stated in 80-90 A.D.
“And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day meet more diligently.”
Don’t just take our word for it though. See for yourself, by googling, or visiting your local library and learn exactly what the first Christians thought about Sunday vs Saturday observance. Note well, how everything written both before and after 325 AD. unequivocally states that Christians observed Sunday. How can the WMSCOG get it so wrong? It’s turning a blind eye to the clear historical record to say the least, and I don’t know any historian who wouldn’t laugh their version of history out of the room.
Do Christians Worship The Sun On Sunday?
Not content to leave it at misrepresenting early Christian practices, the WMSCOG takes it a step further, claiming on their official USA site, that during the fourth century:
…the faith of the Christians weakened, and they began to accept the customs of the sun-god worshipers. During this turn-over, they even began to rest and to worship on the first day of the week [Sunday].
Ouch. Now, that just looks silly after all of the historical research we have done (you did go and read up on early Christian observance of Sunday didn’t you?)
The WMSCOG implies that Christians are worshiping the Sun when they gather to worship on Sunday. Let’s take that argument and apply it to Jews and other Sabbatarians. Saturday is named after the planet Saturn. Does that mean that Jews and the WMSCOG worship Saturn because they gather to worship on Saturday? People who gather on Sunday are no more worshiping the Sun god that those who gather on Saturday are worshiping the pagan god of Saturn.
Did Constantine Really Abolish The Sabbath?
Constatine, as emperor, only had jurisdiction over civil observance of the day of rest. Constantine did not have authority within the church to designate or change the day of worship. In fact, Constatine helped stop the persecution of Christians by making Sunday a day of rest, so they could not be singled out for discrimination by a mostly-pagan populous.
Eusebius, a Roman Bishop and historian, wrote “The Life of Constantine”. Eusebius wrote regarding Constantine and Sunday worship:
“And since his [Constantine] desire was to teach his whole army zealously to honor the Saviour’s day (which derives its name from light, and from the sun), he freely granted to those among them who were partakers of the divine faith, leisure for attendance on the services of the Church of God, in order that they might be able, without impediment, to perform their religious worship”.
Eusebius makes it clear that Christians were previously unable to worship on Sundays because they were required to work. Previously, Saturday was the only day of rest, or day on which no customary work was to be done. If Constantine would have abolished the Sabbath, as the WMSCOG claims, then he would have had to reinstate Saturday as a day of work. There is no historical evidence, that I can find, to even suggest that Constantine abolished Saturday as a day of rest. Is there any evidence in Jewish history that supports that Constantine abolished the Sabbath and forced the Jews to work or prohibited them to worship on Saturday? No. Did Constantine institute any consequences for Christians that did not worship on Sunday? No. Then it is impossible for Constantine to have “abolished” the Sabbath and therefore, the WMSCOG’s claims remain unfounded. It is revisionist history to say otherwise.
Is Constantine Satan?
In the WMSCOG’s study on the book of Daniel, or Daniel’s Prophecy, they claim that Constantine is Satan because he allegedly changed God’s laws (Daniel 7:25). The WMSCOG also claims that the positive changes that Constantine made for Christians during his reign were an attempt by Constantine (or Satan according to the official WMSCOG site) to trick Christians into turning against God.
When Satan [Constantine] changed his methods of persecution, however, and praised the Church, he tempted the Christians to combine their faiths together. They were given back the properties that had been taken from them, ministers were exempted from military service, and the Church was even given the right to emancipate slaves. Through all of these outwardly positive changes to the Church, the Christians unwittingly fell into Satan’s schemes and knelt down before him. They turned their backs away from God…
It is important to mention that immediately prior to Constantine’s rule, the Christians suffered what is called The Great Persecution during which 20,000 Christians died under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Why doesn’t the WMSCOG consider Diocletian to be Satan? During the Diocletian rule, Christians were forced to burn incense and offer sacrifices to pagan gods and were arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed if they refused. Constantine made the practice of offering sacrifices illegal and expelled those officers in his court that made sacrifices to pagan gods. Why would Constantine do this if his goal was to turn Christians away from God? It was not until Constantine legalized Christianity that the persecution ceased.
In the above quote, the WMSCOG claims that Constantine wanted Christians to bow down before him. But Eusebius, in his writings about Constantine, explains that Constantine was displeased with people who praised him excessively.
“And now that all these ceremonies were completed, and the divine qualities of the emperor’s character continued to be the theme of universal praise, one of God’s ministers presumed so far as in his own presence to pronounce him blessed, as having been counted worthy to hold absolute and universal empire in this life, and as being destined to share the empire of the Son of God in the world to come. These words, however, Constantine heard with indignation, and forbade the speaker to hold such language, exhorting him rather to pray earnestly on his behalf, that whether in this life or in that which is to come, he might be found worthy to be a servant of God“.
Did Constantine Abolish Other Feasts?
In his writings about Constantine, Eusebius tells us that Constantine died at noon on the day of the Pentacost.
“All these events occurred during a most important festival, I mean the august and holy solemnity of Pentecost, which is distinguished by a period of seven weeks, and sealed with that one day on which the holy Scriptures attest, the ascension of our common Saviour into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit among men. In the course of this feast the emperor received the privileges I have described; and on the last day of all, which one might justly call the feast of feasts, he was removed about mid-day to the presence of his God, leaving his mortal remains to his fellow mortals, and carrying into fellowship with God that part of his being which was capable of understanding and loving him”.
Here is evidence of yet another Christian feast that was not abolished by Constantine. If the WMSCOG’s claims that Constantine abolished the Sabbath were valid, why would Constantine abolish the Sabbath and not the Pentecost? This does not make sense. Just another example of how the WMSCOG’s misrepresentation of history easily fails in light of additional sources.
It is abundantly clear that the historical facts do not support the WMSCOG’s claims that Constantine “abolished” the Sabbath and in fact only prove that the WMSCOG must resort to historical revisionism in order to clamor for listeners.
*The photo above is licensed under the Creative Commons license, available here.