Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 2)

Jon English Lee
| March 6, 2014

*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include: Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 1)Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (Part 2)Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (part 1)Sabbath Typology and Eschatological RestPaul and the Sabbath,  Jesus and the Sabbath,  The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the OT, a look at God’s Rest as Prescriptive, an examination of the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance.**These posts on the early church are adapted from part of a forthcoming article.[1]

Continuing our series on the Sabbath, this post will look at the thought of the early church father Ignatius of Antioch to see what he thought concerning the Sabbath/Lord’s Day debate.

Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch around the beginning of the second century. Most scholars believe that he was martyred under the Roman emperor Trajan around 110 AD.[2] Ignatius wrote his letters while being taken to Rome for his execution. Ignatius wrote one if his letters to the church at Magnesia, a city found in what is now Asia Minor.

Text

Epistle to the Magnesians 9:1. “If, then, those who had lived according to the ancient practices came to the newness of hope, no longer keeping the sabbath but living in accordance with the Lord’s day [μηκέτι σαββατίζοντες ἀλλά κατά κυριακήν ζῶντες], on which our life also arose through him and his death…”[3]

Significance

A first significance found in Ignatius’ arguments is the “sharp contrast he draws between ‘sabbatizing’ and ‘living according to the Lord’s Day.’” This is the first time in recorded Christian literature that the matter had been put in such a way.[4] Ignatius is not arguing, as Paul often does, with concern for Gentile freedom from the law. Rather, his words betray a “more thorough-going distinction between Judaism and Christianity.” Furthermore,

The Sabbath, for Ignatius, is the badge of a false attitude to Jesus Christ, while Eucharistic worship on the Lord’s Day defines Christianity as salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is an early witness to the dissociation of Christianity from Judaism which characterizes the second century, and to the wholly negative attitude to Sabbath observance that was the corollary of that.[5]

Ignatius demonstrates the growing tendency for Christians to separate themselves from Jewish customs and advocates a distinctively Christian practice of Lord’s Day gathering.

A second significance is the clear foundation that Ignatius gives for Lord’s Day observance: the resurrection. The church father, less than a generation removed from the Apostles, shows the beginnings of a Lord’s Day theology that will begin to blossom over the coming centuries.

The next post in the series will look at some other figures in church history to see what they thought concerning the doctrine of the Sabbath.


[1]This post is an adaptation of a fuller treatment of the Sabbath in the early Church: Jon English Lee, “Significant 2nd Century Witnesses To The Sabbath and Lord’s Day Debate,” The Churchman, forthcoming 2014.

[2]Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 2/2.435-72. See also Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 170.

[3]Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, 208.

[4]Rordorf, Sunday, 261.

[5]Bauckham, “Sabbath and Sunday,” in Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, 261.