In my opinion, one of the most challenging arenas of science for a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) is geology. Both sides of the debate have the same data to work with- the geologic column. Likewise, they share the same goal- reconstructing a plausible theory to explain the earth’s history. The very deepest layers in this geological column, the Precambrian and lower Cambrian, pose quite a mystery for us to solve since they contain the very first signs of life.
Of particular interest within these lowest levels, is the presence of a clear order of organisms increasing in complexity along the vertically ascending layers of sediment. The questions are: how do we explain the method by which these layers came to be deposited historically and what is the significance of the increasing complexity in the fossil record? Creationists and Evolutionists have two vastly different answers largely due to the presuppositions underlying their respective world views. These presuppositions unavoidably affect interpretation.
Evolutionary theory sees the layers as being deposited over millions of years, containing the record of the evolution of life from simple to complex. This view traditionally enjoys the “edge” in modern thought for two reasons. First, it’s the only view most people are aware of since it is the only one approved in public education systems; and second, it is certainly a simple/obvious explanation if one agrees with evolutionary presuppositions.
YEC theory sees the deposition of these deepest layers as the result of one catastrophic event- the global flood recorded in Genesis chapters 6-9 which devastated the entire earth. Since YEC’s maintain that life didn’t evolve, but came into existence simultaneously according to the Biblical 6 day Creation narrative, the difficulty has been arriving at an explanation of the increasing complexity demonstrated in the fossil record. However, Dr. Kurt Wise (Ph.D. in Paleontology and M.A in Geology from Harvard) described a theory during his presentation at the 2017 “Is Genesis History?” Conference proving that the evolutionary reconstruction is not the only one data supports. Wise admits that “Creationist palaeontology is an immature field” and that their “resources… are severely limited.” However, Wise believes his theory is the one aligning most closely with the evidence.
Early in Dr. Wise’s presentation, he sets the stage by documenting the data both evolutionists and creationists have to interpret:
At the base of the geologic column, the lowest level is referred to as the “Precambrian.”
Dr. Wise notes that there are only 12 geographical locations where geologists can access the complete Precambrian series of sediments exhibiting the order of increasing complexity (stratomorphic series). In fact, he explains, it has only been within approximately the last 30 years that these rocks have been recognized as what they are- Precambrian sediments that did not erode away. Within this series, there is a clear and consistent sequence of sediments containing organisms increasing in complexity beginning with simple bacteria. This same order of increasing complexity in the fossil record is observed throughout the geological column. For example, the order is present even throughout the Great Unconformity (which exists on almost all continents) despite the fact that some of the layers present in the Precambrian series of sediments are missing altogether.
Dr. Wise supplies the following examples of this ascending complexity. In the deepest layer of sediment, the only fossils present are bacteria or bacteria related. Rising up into younger sediments, in addition to the bacteria, you begin to find single celled algae. Continuing upward, protists appear (single celled, non-photosynthetic organisms- not an animal, plant, or fungus). Next, appear a group called “Ediacaran Fauna” which are large (1-2′), flat macrofossils (fossils observable with the naked eye).
Following this group is “Tommotian Fauna” (or “small shelly fauna”) which are small (around 1 inch at most) cone-shaped fossils.
Next, come the “Atdabanian Fauna.” This is the lowest level in which Trilobites are found.
Evolutionist Interpretation of the Data
Traditional evolutionary theory presupposes both uniformitarianism and naturalism. The former can be defined as the “concept that ‘the present is the key to the past’ (that events occur at the same rate now as they have always done)…Today, Earth’s history is considered to have been a slow, gradual process, punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events.” Therefore, each layer of sediment in the geologic column (some of which are tens of thousands of feet thick) represents millions of years of history. This “deep time” is crucial to support the latter presupposition which can be summarized as the “idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.” Barring the possibility of a Creator God existing outside of His Creation, evolutionists conclude that the ascending complexity of organisms can only be explained by slow evolutionary processes requiring millions of years.
No one would disagree that given the presuppositions above, these conclusions are reasonable. Wise notes an additional factor supporting evolutionary theory while being problematic for YEC. Essentially, if the lowest levels of sediment can preserve bacteria, it should be able to preserve more complex organisms if they existed simultaneously. The simplest and most logical deduction is that only bacteria are preserved because they were the only thing in existence. This is the problem Wise’s theory addresses.
At this juncture it must be noted that the assumption of uniformitarianism underlying evolutionary theory is not scientifically provable. As influential 20th century paleontologist G.G Simpson famously stated, “Uniformity is an unprovable postulate justified, or indeed required, on two grounds. First, nothing in our incomplete but extensive knowledge of history disagrees with it. Second, only with this postulate is a rational interpretation of history possible, and we are justified in seeking—as scientists we must seek—such a rational interpretation.” This is imperative due to modern day rhetoric claiming that creation science is “pseudoscience.” The entire foundation of evolutionary theory is underscored by an “unprovable postulate” rendering its resulting conclusions no more or less scientific than the conclusions of creation science.
YEC Interpretation of the Data
YEC’s operate under their own set of presuppositions. While agreeing that relatively recent geological history can be reconstructed with the assumption of the slow, gradual processes that we witness today, they reject that uniformitarianism can be projected infinitely backward in antiquity to arrive at an accurate historical reconstruction of earth’s ancient history due to the global Flood. YEC’s also presuppose a Creator who created life supernaturally as described in Scripture rather than via naturalistic means. Wise submits that the evidence indicates that “the uppermost Precambrian are the very beginning of the Flood deposits and they are preserving a Pre-Flood ecological sequence of some sort.”
Interestingly, this alternative interpretation of the data wasn’t arrived at by a group of YEC scientists. Instead, the theory that follows was developed during the course of a Harvard University graduate class under renowned paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Gould, studying the Cambrian explosion. Although Wise doesn’t reveal if any of the other class participants besides himself were YEC’s, he does note that the conclusions being drawn were (understandably) disconcerting to the evolutionists working on the project.
It all began when the group made an interesting observation: within the stratomorphic series,
each type of fauna is specific to a particular type of rock. For example: the Ediacaran Fauna is almost always found in sand; the Tommotian Fauna is always in carbonates; and the Atdabanian Fauna is always in shale. Therefore, the faunal sequence is dependent on the type of rock (facies dependant).
The group recognized this phenomenon to be in keeping with “Walther’s Law” which Wise summarizes as, “a principle in geology stating that if you have a series of lithosomes (types of rock) stacked vertically in a particular order, it could be that the order is due to a transgression event or a regression event, where the first thing is formed in shallow water, the next thing is formed in deeper water, and the next thing is formed in even deeper water. It could be that what you see vertically, is what the world was like horizontally at the time of deposition… So, you’re not actually looking at three different aged things. You’re looking at three different things at different positions.”
Wise clarifies with the following scenario: you have sand at the shore, mud off shore, and reefs out beyond that. This would result in layers of sandstone, mud shale, then carbonate. So, if you see a sequence of sandstone/shale/carbonate in a vertical sequence, you could conclude that rather than life evolving into greater complexity over millions of years, you merely have three separate facies existing side by side that became buried on top of each other because water came in over the land. Therefore, these three faunas may not be separated in time, but are separated horizontally. Three different fauna, living at the same time, getting buried in a sequence only because water is either coming in or going out. Subsequently, the shallow water organisms are buried on bottom, followed by those inhabiting medium depth water, followed by deep water organisms.
This essentially reveals that millions of years of time is not a necessary factor in the formation of these 12 areas in which geologists have a clear cross-section of the Precambrian.
Adding Radiometric Dating into the Mix
It is beyond the scope of this article to address the numerous and very valid problems with the accuracy of ages of rocks assigned by radiometric dating. Interested readers can refer to Dr. Andrew Snelling’s treatment of that topic in his article Radiometric Dating: Problems with the Assumptions. To greatly simplify, I will merely state that the science behind the dating models is sound. However, the scientifically unprovable assumptions plugged in as constants in the equations render the results unrealiable at best and completely invalid at worst.
For our purposes, the only relevant issue is the range of time that these radiometric dating models indicate regarding the successive layers of rock which cumulatively result in the millions of years evolutionists assign to the geologic column in the form of the geologic time scale. When it comes to these ancient date ranges assigned to each layer of sediment, Wise explains that the smallest increment of measurement is the “radiometric pixel” which is a unit of 5 million years. Essentially, this means that radiometric dating methods employed in this context cannot discern periods of time between sediments in increments less than 5 million years.
This becomes of paramount importance when Wise notes that the graduate team examining the radiometric dating data pertaining to these layers of sediment discovered that the evidence revealed the time period separating these layers was not, in fact, hundreds of millions of years, but something less than a radiometric pixel! Here, Wise points out, that when you are at the Cambrian level (dated by the evolutionary time scale to be 5 million years ago), 5 million years is 1%- you can’t see anything less than 1%. Foundationally, you can’t distinguish the different age of things less than 1% apart.
How do these facts alter the interpretation of the data? Wise states, “The radiometric data suggests that there is less than a radiometric pixel between these three faunas. Add that to the facies issues of the faunas and we concluded these faunas don’t represent successive faunas, they represent three faunas at the same time. Buried in that order, but not living in that order.”
Wise continues by explaining that this finding is magnified when one realizes that whatever process has buried these fauna in this same pattern, it is represented identically in 12 different geographical locations all over the earth! So, the next step becomes figuring out how closely the age of these 12 different deposits can be determined. Wise says, “Again, we concluded that we cannot discern differences in their age at the level of the radiometric pixel. So, they could all be at exactly the same moment in time, and that the same event, a global event, buried them in the same sequence for that reason.” Therefore, the data contained in the Precambrian and lower Cambrian layers can very well be interpreted in support of the Genesis global flood event, documenting life existing simultaneously, and ordered in horizontal proximity to one another.
At the end of the day, evolutionists will never consider the YEC theory to be valid. Not because the data contained in the Precambrian and lower Cambrian sediments preclude it, but because it violates the two foundational presuppositions of uniformitarianism and naturalism- neither of which are scientifically provable.
In the previous installments of this series we have systematically disproved the most integral elements of the Seventh Day Sabbatarian myth that the Christian tradition of gathering for worship on Sunday is rooted in pagan practice. In Part 1, we established that no weekly pagan observance was held on Sunday in honor of a pagan deity in either Rome or Greece. In Part 2, we clarified the following: historically, the term “catholic” refers merely to the early Christian church and is not synonymous with the entity which later became known as the “Roman Catholic Church”; the Christian practice of gathering for worship on Sunday was a well established tradition long before the 300’s (the alleged rise of the Roman Catholic Church); this practice was not confined to the geographical area of Rome; this practice was not considered a “replacement Sabbath”; it was overwhelmingly adopted due to early Christians’ reverence of Jesus’ resurrection; and finally, that the Roman Catholic Church’s claim that they “changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday” is based on their own brand of revisionist history and not historically supportable.
One may logically wonder what is even left to dispute since the Seventh Day Sabbatarians’ required foundational claims have been effectively dismissed as fallacious. However, there are three subjects left which must be addressed: the alleged unopposed power of Rome, Constantine, and the ecumenical councils of Nicea (325 AD) and Laodicea (364 AD). The vast majority of Seventh Day Sabbatarian “evidence” comes in the form of excerpted quotes, edicts, and canons from selected decrees and councils which are strategically placed within their publications to construct an erroneous historical context.
Did Rome Have the Authority to Establish Sunday Worship Throughout Christendom?
Perusal of Seventh Day Sabbatarian literature of all stripes leaves one with the clear impression that Rome had complete, unopposed authority over all of Christendom from an extremely early date. Essentially, this belief can only be sustained if one has little to no knowledge of the structure of the early church. An excellent resource on this topic is David Guzik’s second lecture in his Early Church History series, The Spread of the Gospel and the Apologists.
Guzik explains that the early church leaders did not see themselves as apostles, but heirs to the apostles, so the focus was placed on the office of bishop which is a new testament office. Guzik defines the authority of the office of bishop as, “leader of the Christians in a particular city and its immediate region.” He continues, “He had oversight over the many congregations of Christians in that area.” The office of bishop did increase in power over time due to a variety of factors, but Guzik notes that “this was a trend encouraged by the apostolic fathers, including Ignatius of Antioch (110-117 AD).” The four cities that rose to prominence were Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and Alexandria which did result in the bishops of these cities acquiring more authority than other bishops of less prominent cities.
Guzik notes that “this naturally led to competition between the prominent patriarchal bishops” and is indeed the manner by which there came to be a “Pope” much later down the road. How much later down the road? According to the Biblicalcyclopedia entry for “papacy,” “The first pope, in the real sense of the word, was Leo I (440-461).” However, the rest of the article attests to the fact that even at this point the struggle for supremacy was far from over. Eventually, the bishop of Rome did emerge as the leading figure of the church in the west. This is an evolution elaborated upon in Guzik’s fifth lecture, The Christian Empire: The Roman Catholic Church and the Papacyfor those interested in pursuing that topic.
For our discussion, the pertinent question is: Was the bishop of Rome capable of exerting his authority over the other three prominent bishops (of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) with regard to Christian practice during the early time periods required by the Seventh Day Sabbatarian theory. The clear historical answer is no. One of the best examples to demonstrate this is the Quartodeciman Controversy which took place in three stages over a period of 170 years swirling around the debate concerning the appropriate date the resurrection should be celebrated and when the fast would end. Ironically, many pagan origin conspiracy theorists erroneously bill this debate as an Easter vs Passover disagreement. For more on that, you can check out my article: So You Think Easter is Pagan Part 2: The Constantine Conspiracy.
In take one of the controversy, Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna) came to visit Anicetus (bishop of Rome) in 155 AD to convince Anicetus to follow his tradition of observing Passover on Nisan 14 rather than on the Sunday following Nisan 14, but neither bishop could convince the other. They ended up agreeing to disagree and took the Lord’s Supper together. In take two of the controversy circa 195 AD, Victor (the bishop of Rome) tried to excommunicate Polycrates (bishop of Ephesus) for observing Passover on Nisan 14 rather than the Sunday after Nisan 14. Irenaeus (Polycarp’s disciple) agreed that Sunday should be kept, however, he and several other bishops opposed Victor’s attempt to excommunicate Polycrates citing the peaceful example set by Polycarp and Anicetus in 155. Polycrates was ultimately not excommunicated. This shows that even at the end of the 2nd century, the bishop of Rome did not have the power to make mandates on the church as a whole and the other bishops both opposed and defied him without consequence. Both Polycarp and Polycrates acted as equals to the bishop of Rome.
As D.M. Canright writes in his no nonsense manner, “Specially mark this fact: The observance and sanctity of the Lord’s Day was fully established throughout all the great Eastern Churches long before the Roman Papacy could rule even in the West, much less in the East.”
Seventh Day Sabbatarians have no problem identifying who they believe is responsible for what they claim is the “replacing” of the seventh day Sabbath with Sunday- Rome and the Papacy. However, the when is not so clearly established. Are any of the suggested occasions plausible? Let’s take a look at the options.
Constantine’s 321 AD Edict
Here I will provide an example of how Seventh Day Sabbatarian groups commonly surround quotes with their “revised” context in order to lend credibility to a narrative where none exists. The following is a citation of Constantine’s 321 AD edict found in United Church of God, an International Association’s article, Was the Saturday Sabbath Changed to Sunday:
The article states, “Constantine the Great, a worshipper of the pagan Roman sun god Sol Invictus, famously converted to Christianity at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312… Several years later, he dictated the following edict which established a national day of rest on Sunday, the holy day of Sol Invictus.”
Here the article inserts the edict from the source Codex Justinianis lib. 3, tit. 12, 3:
“On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or for vine-planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost. (Given the 7th day of March, Crispus and Constantine being consuls each of them for the second time [A.D. 321]”
The UCG article bookends this citation with the following assertion, “With this edict, Constantine effectively combined pagan worship practices from the Roman sun god he worshiped with aspects of his new-found Christianity. This pattern is replicated throughout early Roman Catholic History.”
Encased in such a sinister context, the content of the edict is easily assigned meaning that is wholly foreign to its author’s intent. The goal of presenting the edict in this way is to insinuate that the language used in the edict corroborates their two foundational claims: 1) that Sunday was an established weekly pagan observance in honor of the sun god in Rome; 2) that with this edict, Constantine exercised his authority to require Christians to change the day of their Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Reading the edict with these two presuppositions in mind leads one to view the edict as directed toward Christians with the intent of requiring them by law to worship on what the pagans referred to as “the venerable day of the Sun.”
The problem with this is that we have already revealed that both of those presuppositions are patently false. First, there was no such weekly pagan observance to the sun deity to co-opt in Rome, rather it was annual. One may not commandeer (no matter how much power one wields) a pagan observance that does not exist. Second, the overwhelming testimony of early church history (dating back to even the 1st century) is that the tradition of Christian worship on Sunday was already well established throughout Christendom by the time of the issuance of this edict – not merely in Rome. Canright highlights the absurdity of assigning this edict as the origin of widespread Christian worship on Sunday by noting the limited scope of its authority, “This law applied only to the Roman Empire. At that date there were numerous Christian Churches outside of the Roman jurisdiction, all keeping Sunday…This law in no way could affect them.”
In light of these truths, the Seventh Day Sabbatarian assertions are nonsensical. Why would Constantine issue an edict requiring Christians to cease work on Sunday when this had already been their tradition for generations? The logical question becomes: To whom was this edict directed if not Christians? Clearly there was a group of people in Rome who were working on Sunday. The use of pagan language in the edict itself describing Sunday as “the venerable day of the Sun” identifies the group to whom it was directed- pagans! Constantine’s edict then becomes further evidence of what all Roman historians already attest: that Roman pagans were not already setting aside this “day of the Sun” as any type of weekly holy day in which they abstained from work.
Canright writes, “Christians needed no law to compel them to keep the day, for they all kept it already as a Christian duty. But the pagans kept no weekly day. Hence the law was directed to them, and, of course, used pagan terms for that day, ‘the day of the sun.’ That is the manifest explanation of why the pagan name was used.” Were the edict directed at Christians and intended to become an alternative Sabbath certainly the language of the edict would reflect that. But it doesn’t. It is obvious that Constantine did not intend Sunday as any type of replacement Sabbath as defined by a Sabbatarian. The word “Sabbath” is noticeably absent and farmers were explicitly given the freedom to work on that day as they pleased.
It should also be mentioned that although the edict declared Sunday a civil day of rest within the cities, it did not force pagans outside the city to conform to Christian tradition. Canright cites the significance notable and well-respected early church historian Philip Schaff places on the clause within the edict giving those “in the country” the freedom to work their fields on the civilly designated day of rest, “He expressly exempted the country districts where paganism still prevailed.” Canright elaborates, “This is true, and it shows that the pagans did not keep Sunday nor did they wish to. Hence, where they were greatly in the majority, they were exempted from obeying this law. But in the cities where Christians largely were, there secular business had to cease. This law was made to protect Christians and the Christian’s day, not pagans nor a pagan day.”
But, Weren’t Early Christians Who Chose to Gather for Worship on Saturday Persecuted?
This is another instance of a claim which is repeated ad nauseum by Seventh Day Sabbatarians with absolutely no source citation as corroboration. The argument is that most early Christians wanted to gather on Saturday and believed this is what Scripture teaches, but were forced to abandon this belief practically en masse and gather on Sunday instead due to persecution. Essentially, “Sunday worship” survived predominately as tradition due to these circumstances.
Admittedly, I find this an interesting path of reasoning due to the fact that, historically, Christianity as a whole both thrives and spreads particularly in times of grievous persecution. That being said, after sifting through mountains of Seventh Day Sabbatarian literature I finally found one source which provided a single citation to corroborate the claim. The source cited as “proof” was Constantine’s 315 AD decree, Concerning Jews, Heaven Worshippers, and Samaritans fromFordham University’s Jewish History Sourcebook which reads as follows:
“We wish to make it known to the Jews and their elders and their patriarchs that if, after the enactment of this law, any one of them dares to attack with stones or some other manifestation of anger another who has fled their dangerous sect and attached himself to the worship of God [Christianity], he must speedily be given to the flames and burn~ together with all his accomplices. Moreover, if any one of the population should join their abominable sect and attend their meetings, he will bear with them the deserved penalties.”
This decree does not do anything to bolster the Seventh Day Sabbatarian case for the following reasons:
This law was instituted in 315 AD, 6 years prior to Constantine’s alleged institution of Sunday observance and it actually says nothing about Sunday observance at all. It would be truly confusing to assert that Constantine had instituted a persecution of individuals for breaking a law that he had yet to decree.
If the law was enforced as it is written, it certainly doesn’t constitute persecution. It does however assign a harsh, capital punishment for Jews who attack via stoning, etc, individuals who have converted to Christianity.
All other laws documented on this Fordham University site which DO constitute persecution were instituted by Roman Emperors that came well after Constantine.
In order to corroborate their claim, Seventh Day Sabbatarians would need a citation of Saturday keeping Christians being persecuted prior to this date since the tradition of gathering on Sunday was well established long before Constantine even existed. Do they have evidence of that? If so, I have never seen it provided.
On the flip side of the coin, do we have any historical evidence that the small number of Christians who chose to gather for worship on Saturday instead of Sunday were not persecuted by the church? As a matter of fact we do. Justin Martyr discusses these very individuals in his Dialogue with Trypho 47 (dated between 155 and 167 AD). Trypho asks Martyr if individuals who recognize Jesus as the Messiah, yet choose to keep the law of Moses (including the seventh day Sabbath) will still be saved. The following is an excerpt from Martyr’s response:
“But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses, from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people’s hearts, along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren. But if, Trypho,’ I continued, ‘some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them. But I believe that even those, who have been persuaded by them to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved.” (emphasis mine)
Martyr doesn’t mince words- there is no ambiguity. While he clearly disagrees with those who choose to keep the Sabbath as a requirement, as long as these individuals do not harass other Christians by telling them they are required to hold the same belief, he considers them his “kinsmen and brethren.” Furthermore, even with regards to those who do harass (or as Paul would say “judaize”) other Christians, Martyr still believes they are “saved” even though he avoids association with them. Disagreement does not equal persecution by any stretch of the imagination.
How About Ecumenical Councils?
Frankly, any Seventh Day Sabbatarian effort to pinpoint an alleged forceful institution of a “replacement” Sabbath on Sunday on any ecumenical council is an exercise in futility no matter what quotation is cited. Why? Because the very first ecumenical council was the Council of Nicea which did not occur until 325 AD. Since we are quite nearly guilty of beating the proverbial dead horse when it comes to providing evidence that the Christian tradition of worship on Sunday was, by this point, extremely old news we will only mention two councils very briefly.
The Council of Nicea 325 AD
This council is the subject of quite a number of conspiracy theories, the vast majority of which are beyond the scope of this article. Canright cites the allegation relating to our topic as leveled by an editorial in theAdvent Review and Herald, February 26, 1914:
“I find that three hundred and twenty-five years after Christianity was born, a council of human beings, called the Council of Nice, convened by a human being named Constantine the Great, instituted the first day Sabbath to displace the seventh day Sabbath.” The editor endorses this language thus: “The position which the writer of the letter takes is impregnable and the arguments unanswerable.”
As it turns out, the position is neither “impregnable” nor the arguments “unanswerable.” The entire purpose for the council and prime debate to be settled was the relationship of the Father and the Son. Specifically, whether or not Jesus Christ is a created being or true God. Amid the secondary disputes presented at Nicea, the subject of worship on Sunday was not even broached. However, James R. White mentions that “Twenty canons were presented dealing with various disciplinary issues within the church.” It is here that Seventh Day Sabbatarians attempt to lodge a foot in the door. However, the only one that even remotely touches our topic is the twentieth canon which reads:
“Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.”
This canon bypasses the subject of the propriety of gathering for worship on the Lord’s Day entirely (and during Pentecost) and discusses instead whether or not individuals should kneel or stand while praying. Paul Pavao provides these comments on the 20th canon, “In De Corona (ch. 3) Tertullian, around A.D. 200, says that the practice of praying while standing on Sunday and between Passover and Pentecost was a long-standing tradition. So this tradition predates Nicea by around two centuries, at least. The reason for this is that the first day of the week and Passover were days to celebrate the resurrection. Since they were days of celebration, kneeling and fasting were forbidden. Tertullian seems to think those traditions were observed everywhere…The observance of the Lord’s day and the avoidance of fasting and kneeling on the first day of the week is a very ancient tradition.”
Canright cites the following historical facts (including sources) regarding the Council of Nicea which further damage the Seventh Day Sabbatarian case:
“This world-renowned council was held at Nice in Grecian territory near Constantinople, A.D. 325. It was the first general council of the Christian Church. Dean Stanley, in his ‘History of the Eastern Church,’ devotes one hundred pages to this council. On page 99 he says it was Eastern, held in the center of the Eastern Church. Its decrees were accepted by all Christendom ‘as a final settlement of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity’ (page 102). It was a democratic assembly; no Pope ruled over it (page 107). In calling the council, the Bishop of Rome was not consulted, nor did he or any bishop from Italy attend. Only two presbyters came to represent Rome and only five or six bishops from all the West. There were three hundred and eighteen bishops present. All these were from the Eastern Greek Churches, except the six as above. It was emphatically an Eastern Greek council, held in Greek territory, and conducted in the Greek language. The ‘Encyclopedia Britannica,’ Article ‘Nice,’ says: “The West was but feebly represented. Two presbyters as deputies of the Roman Bishop, Sylvester, were present. Thus an immense majority of the Synod hailed from the East.” (emphasis mine)
Furthermore, the 6th Nicene canon refutes the Seventh Day Sabbatarian assertion of an ultimately authoritative Rome:
“Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.”
On this canon James R. White writes, “This canon is significant because it demonstrates that at this time there was no concept of a single universal head of the church with jurisdiction over everyone else. While later Roman bishops would claim such authority, resulting in the development of the papacy, at this time no Christian looked to one individual, or church, as the final authority.”
Once again referring to the “persecution” element of the discussion, let’s briefly make a note of just who these bishops voting at Nicea were. James R. White writes:
“When it (the Council of Nicea) began on June 19, 325, the fires of persecution had barely cooled. The Roman Empire had been unsuccessful in its attempt to wipe out the Christian faith. Fourteen years had elapsed since the final persecutions under the Emperor Galerius had ended. Many of the men who made up the Council of Nicea bore in their bodies the scars of persecution. They had been willing to suffer for the name of Christ.”
So we have bishops, many of whom had been willing to die and had indeed submitted to torture rather than betray their faith, voting on the issues at the Council of Nicea. Does it make sense that these same men would vote to compromise the church by enforcing a foreign tradition rooted in paganism fourteen years after they were willing to die for their principles? No.
Canright aptly summarizes, “This, it will be seen, simply recognizes the Lord’s Day as a well-known Christian day of worship familiar to all that great Eastern council. There was no discussion over it, no opposition to it. Here were eighteen hundred bishops and clergy nearly all from the Eastern Churches. Did any one of them object that they kept the Sabbath instead of the Lord’s Day? No, not a hint of it. All were agreed on the day. And this was over a hundred years before the Papacy was born and only four years after Constantine’s Sunday law of A.D. 321.”
“Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.”
Why is this no help for the Seventh Day Sabbatarian case? Canright cites multiple reasons:
“Laodicea is not Rome. It is situated in Asia Minor over 1,000 miles east of Rome. It was in Asia, not in Europe. It was an Eastern, not a Western town, an Oriental, not a Latin city…It was a Greek, not a Roman city…The Pope of Rome did not attend this council at Laodicea, A.D. 364…nor did he send a legate or a delegate or any one to represent him. In fact, neither the Roman Church nor the Pope had anything to do with the council in any way, shape, or manner. It was held without even their knowledge or consent… I have searched through a number of cyclopedias and church histories and can find no mention at all of the council at Laodicea in most of them, and only a few lines in any…Rev. W. Armstrong, a scholar of Canton, Pa., says: ‘This council is not even mentioned by Mosheim, Milner, Euter, Reeves, Socrates, Sozomen, nor by four other historians on my table.’ McClintock and Strong’s ‘Cyclopedia’ says of this council: ‘Thirty-two bishops were present from different provinces in Asia.’ All bishops of the Eastern Church, not one from the Roman Church!…Now think of it: this little local council of thirty-two bishops revolutionizes the whole world on the keeping of the Sabbath immediately without opposition!”
We have clearly established that Rome most certainly did not have the authority to forcibly “change” the day upon which the vast majority of Christendom worshiped at the early date Seventh Day Sabbatarian theories require. Nor can the institution of this tradition be traced to Constantine’s 321 AD edict. Even less logic can be detected in attempting to declare subsequent ecumenical councils as the culprit which were not Roman but Greek, and not even attended by a Roman bishop (pope). Canright states in his forthright fashion that one may “As well claim that Russia established our Fourth of July.” I find this comparison particularly relevant in light of our current political climate.
Seventh Day Sabbatarians may choose to esteem Saturday rather than Sunday. They may not, however, vilify those who choose to esteem Sunday by ascribing fallacious and historically unsupportable pagan origin to the tradition. A tradition that is well attested universally by Christians in all geographical areas, from the very earliest documentation, citing the very same reasons, without controversy or written record of debate.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. […] 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
In Part 1 of this series we demolished the foundational pillar of the “pagan Sunday” argument by proving that there was no such thing as a historical “weekly” pagan observance on the day named Sunday. Since no such practice existed, it is quite ludicrous to assert that anyone could commandeer it. As we noted, the claim is so historically unsupportable that the vast majority of Seventh Day Sabbatarian apologists don’t even attempt to cite corroboratory sources. They strategically choose instead to assert this as an “accepted fact” and quickly barrel into other areas for which they do feel they have historical support.
This brings us to the topic of the second installment of this series. If no such weekly Sunday observance occurred in the pagan realm, where did this phenomenon come from? The Seventh Day Sabbatarian claim is resoundingly universal- Rome and the Catholic Church!
Catholic vs Roman Catholic- What’s the Difference?
If this heading is confusing because you didn’t know there was a difference between the two you are likely a victim of revisionist history or are extremely unfamiliar with early church history. In fact, I would venture to say that a thorough study of early church history is the antidote for individuals infected by the false teachings of many sects or cults that reject a number of orthodox doctrines on the basis of “pagan origin.”
It is true that in modern times when someone mentions the “Catholic Church” they are generally referring to the Roman Catholic Church headed by the Pope in Rome. However, historically the two terms are not synonymous. The term “Roman Catholic” didn’t even exist until it became necessary to differentiate the church in Rome from what was a generally unified “catholic” or “universal” Christian faith spanning across multiple geographical areas. That is not to say that there was no controversy, debate, or differences of opinion among this body. Differences existed to a certain extent without denouncing each other as non-Christian. The Online Etymology Dictionary provides this definition of “catholic”:
“mid-14c., ‘of the doctrines of the ancient Church’ (before the East/West schism), literally ‘universally accepted,’ from French catholique, from Church Latin catholicus ‘universal, general,’ from Greek katholikos, from phrase kath’ holou ‘on the whole, in general,’ from kata ‘about’ + genitive of holos ‘whole’… Medieval Latin catholicus was practically synonymous with Christian and meant ‘constituting or conforming to the church, its faith and organization’ (as opposed to local sects or heresies). With capital C-, applied by Protestants to the Church in Rome c. 1554, after the Reformation began.” (emphasis mine)
The first person to use the term “catholic” was Ignatius, who lived from 35 AD to 107 AD (note: this is long before most Seventh Day Sabbatarians even claim the “catholic church” began forming). He was the bishop in Antioch and was actually martyred in Rome. He is considered an “apostolic father” meaning that tradition holds he was a direct disciple of one of the NT apostles. Both Ignatius and Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna) are said to have been disciples of the Apostle John himself. On his way to Rome around 107 AD, Ignatius wrote a letter to Polycarp now called “Letter to the Smyrnaeans” in which he states:
“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
The use of the term “Roman Catholic” began to be used later to specifically identify the teachings of the church in Rome as opposed to the churches in other geographical areas. David Guzik notes in his “Lectures on Christian History” series in the installment titled “The Spread of the Gospel and the Apologists” that the term “Roman Catholic Church” is almost an oxymoron. It’s like saying “specific universal church.”
The term has been incorporated into the name of the largest Christian communion, the Roman Catholic Church (also called the Catholic Church). All of the three main branches of Christianity in the East (Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church and Church of the East) had always identified themselves as Catholic in accordance with Apostolic traditions and the Nicene Creed. Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Methodists also believe that their churches are ‘Catholic’ in the sense that they too are in continuity with the original universal church founded by the Apostles. However, each church defines the scope of the ‘Catholic Church’ differently. For instance, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox churches, and Church of the East, each maintain that their own denomination is identical with the original universal church, from which all other denominations broke away.”
A picture is worth a thousand words. This chart is rather simplistic, but you’ll still get the idea. For the most part, the church is “universal” in faith until the Schism:
The point is well made that there is a vast difference between the terms “catholic” and “Roman Catholic.” Therefore they certainly cannot be used interchangeably or understood to be synonymous- particularly when one is reading quotes excerpted from historical writings. This is an essential concept to grasp due to the fact that the majority of Seventh Day Sabbatarian’s consistently and erroneously conflate these terms.
When and Where Did Christians Begin to Gather for Worship on Sunday?
Seventh Day Sabbatarians universally claim that Sunday worship originated in Rome. Most also assert that the “catholic church” did not begin to form until at least the 300’s AD. This is an example of the conflation of terms I mentioned earlier. In this sense, by “catholic” they are referring more specifically to the rise of what is historically known as the “Roman Catholic Church.” Still others will be even more specific, citing Constantine and in particular his 321 AD edict.
In fact, what is considered the Roman Catholic Church, with its claimed authority and superiority did not exist until much later. The Seventh Day Sabbatarian view is an extreme oversimplification of the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. As with most corruption, it occurred over time and by degrees. Also, if what they claimed about the authority of the Roman Catholic Church were true, and she did in fact have the ability to enforce her doctrine upon all of Christendom, the Eastern Orthodox Churches wouldn’t exist. Clearly, they exist by virtue of the fact that they refused to come under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. So, the Seventh Day Sabbatarian argument is self-refuting.
However, these claims are important for the following reasons: If we can amply exhibit that it was the practice of early Christians to gather together for worship on Sunday both prior to the 300’s and in geographical locations other than Rome, then we have effectively disproved yet another Seventh Day Sabbatarian argument.
This is not difficult to do since multiple early church writings fulfill this criteria:
“Further, He says to them, ‘Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure.’ Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.”
It should be noted that there is debate regarding the authorship of this work. Traditionally it is ascribed to the Barnabas mentioned in Acts. However, it could have been written by Barnabas of Alexandria or even an anonymous Christian teacher of the period. This fact should not be allowed to undermine the importance of this epistle. It is actually included at the end of the NT in the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus which is one of the only four “remaining codices that contained (or originally contained) the entire text of the Greek Bible (Old and New Testament).” While I am certainly not arguing that this epistle should be included in the canon of Scripture, it is exceedingly sufficient to be used as evidence for our purpose. This purpose is, of course, to establish that the church at this time was already gathering for worship on Sunday- or as this epistle states, keeping “the eighth day with joyfulness.”
“Those, then, who lived by ancient practices arrived at a new hope. They ceased to keep the Sabbath and lived by the Lord’s Day, on which our life as well as theirs shone forth, thanks to Him and his death, though some deny this. Through this mystery we got our faith, and because of it we stand our ground so as to become disciples of Jesus Christ, our sole teacher. How, then, can we live without him when even the prophets, who were his disciples by the Spirit, awaited him as their teacher? He, then, whom they were rightly expecting, raised them from the dead, when he came.”
It is significant to note that Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch which was an eastern church- not western (Roman). This church was formed by (according to Acts 11:19-26) Christians fleeing persecution in Jersusalem and other areas who found refuge in Antioch and was in fact where “the disciples were first called Christians.” Cyril C. Richardson notes in Early Christian Fathers that Magnesia was “some fifteen miles from Ephesus” and Ignatius’s letter to them emphasized, among other things, “against Judaistic errors.”
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place…But 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 and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”
Justin’s First Apology was indeed given at Rome, but was Justin a Roman? D.M. Canright writes, “He was a Greek, born in Palestine and held his ‘Dialogue with Trypho’ at Ephesus, Asia Minor, in the church where St. John lived and died, the very center of the Eastern Church, and only forty-four years after John’s death.”
Justin to Trypho: “Is there any other matter, my friends, in which we are blamed, than this, that we live not after the law, and are not circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers were, and do not observe sabbaths as you do? Are our lives and customs also slandered among you?”
Typho to Justin: “This is what we are amazed at,” said Trypho, “but those things about which the multitude speak are not worthy of belief; for they are most repugnant to human nature. Moreover, I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them. But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God, while you do not obey His commandments.”
Justin to Trypho 12: “The new law requires you to keep perpetual sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you: and if you eat unleavened bread, you say the will of God has been fulfilled. The Lord our God does not take pleasure in such observances: if there is any perjured person or a thief among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true sabbaths of God. If any one has impure hands, let him wash and be pure.”
This dialogue allows us a glimpse into a Jew’s perception of Christian practices at this early date. Trypho takes issue with them because he says they don’t observe festivals or sabbaths, practice circumcision, etc. Justin’s answers also give us incredible clarity into the early Christian view of Sabbath keeping.
“Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity. What then? Do you do less than this? Do not many among you, with an affectation of sometimes worshipping the heavenly bodies likewise, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise?… Wherefore, that I may return from this digression, you who reproach us with the sun and Sunday should consider your proximity to us. We are not far off from your Saturn and your days of rest.”
Here Tertullian makes clear that the Christian practice of gathering on Sunday is no more in reverence to the sun than Jewish practices on Saturday are in reverence to Saturn. He was a native of Carthage in Africa. D.M. Canright writes, “Radically severe in his principles, opposed to all conformity to the world, the laxity of the Roman Church drove him to withdraw from it, which he ever after hotly opposed. So he was not a Romanist, nor did Rome have a particle of influence over him only to drive him the other way…Hence if it were true that Sunday-keeping, as a heathen institution, was being introduced into the Church by Rome, Tertullian is just the man who would have opposed and fearlessly condemned it.”
With these evidences we have accomplished our goal of proving that the Christian tradition of gathering for worship on Sunday was well established long before the 300’s and among all geographical locations in which Christianity had spread. Additionally, none of the writings of the early church fathers sound as if worship on Sunday was a recent development at the time of authorship. This means we can safely assume this tradition originated a significant amount of time prior to the dates they were written.
An excellent visual to put these fathers in their appropriate historical context:
Was Worship on Sunday Intended as a “Replacement Sabbath”?
As noted in the source above, even prominent Adventists apologists have to acknowledge that historically 1) Christians neither viewed their Sunday gathering as a replacement Sabbath and 2) their reasons for choosing Sunday are essentially centered on the resurrection. They cite Adventist scholar Graham Maxwell’slist of the 5 most common reasons given by early Christians for abandoning the Sabbath which the author of the research paper paraphrases:
“1) Sabbath eschatology —The Sabbath foreshadows an age of sinlessness and peace beyond this present age. 2) Moral typology —Living a godly life every day fulfills the purpose of the Sabbath commandment. 3) The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments not binding on Christians. 4) The Sabbath is not a part of the natural law. 5) The patriarchs before Moses did not observe the Sabbath.”
Also cited and paraphrased is Maxwell’s list of the top 4 reasons given by early Christian writers for Sunday worship:
“(1) The extraordinary impact of the Resurrection. (This is the commonest reason given by the Christians themselves.) (2) The Christian desire to honor Christ in a special way. (3) The insistence of Gospel writers (including John in the later part of the century) on stating the day of the week when the Resurrection occurred. (4) The effect of following for some months, or even years, Paul’s request to set aside money for the poor on Sundays.”
But What About the Fact That the Roman Catholic Church Itself Claims That It Instituted the Sunday “Sabbath”?
Seventh Day Sabbatarians routinely use the following quotes to claim that the Roman Catholic Church (or simply Catholic Church) freely admits that they “changed” the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday:
“It is well to remind the Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and all other Christians, that the Bible does not support them anywhere in their observance of Sunday. Sunday is an institution of the Roman Catholic Church, and those who observe the day observe a commandment of the Catholic Church.” (Priest Brady, in an address, reported in the Elizabeth, NJ ‘News’ on March 18, 1903.)
“The Church, on the other hand, after changing the day of rest from the Jewish Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, to the first, made the Third Commandment refer to Sunday as the day to be kept holy as the Lord’s Day. The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. xix) condemns those who deny that the Ten Commandments are binding on Christians.” (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia Ten Commandments entry)
“Deny the authority of the Church and you have no adequate or reasonable explanation or justification for the substitution of Sunday for Saturday in the Third – Protestant Fourth – Commandment of God… The Church is above the Bible, and this transference of Sabbath observance is proof of that fact.” (Catholic Record, September 1, 1923.)
“You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify. The Catholic Church correctly teaches that our Lord and His Apostles inculcated certain important duties of religion which are not recorded by the inspired writers … We must, therefore, conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith.” (Cardinal James Gibbons, The Faith of our Fathers, 1917, page 89).
Strong words indeed- and quite horrifying to any Protestant who holds to sola scriptura! Now we will see the importance of properly defined terms. The issue here, is that these statements apply only to the doctrine of the present day Roman Catholic Church and are certainly not historically accurate with respect to historical catholic (or simply early church) doctrine. As we have just heard the testimonies of multiple early church fathers regarding precisely these issues, there is no need to rehash. Sunday was not viewed as a “replacement sabbath” therefore absolutely nothing has been “transferred” by the authority of anyone.
How can representatives of the Roman Catholic Church make these claims? Quite simply due to the fact that they hold to their own brand of revisionist early church history. They see themselves as preserving the practices and doctrine of the original “catholic” or “universal” faith and every other branch as the schismatic. Considering our citations of early church fathers above, one glaring inconsistency should be apparent. While these fathers certainly recognize and affirm a departure from the Sabbath as dictated by Mosaic Law, they make no attempt to institute Sunday as any type of “replacement.”
Canright reveals the logical inconsistency of Seventh Day Sabbatarians in staunchly believing this claim of the Roman Catholic Church while simultaneously rejecting a multiplicity of others made by the same institution. He explains:
“No class of people denounces the Roman Church more strongly than Adventists do. They pronounce them deceivers, false teachers, perverters of history, and their boastful claims they repudiate as worthless, all except on the change of the Sabbath. Here they hold up, and publish to the world, her mere assertion as settling the question beyond dispute.”
He then lists a sampling of spurious claims that the Roman Catholic Church asserts:
“1) The Roman Catholic Church is the only true Church; 2) St. Peter was the first Pope of the Holy Catholic Church; 3) the present Pope of Rome is the lineal divinely appointed successor of St. Peter; 4) the Pope of Rome is the Vicar of Jesus Christ upon earth; 5) the Pope is infallible; 6) the Pope holds the keys to heaven; 7) all, including Adventists, outside of the Catholic Church are heretics; 8) Protestants are indebted to Catholics for the Holy Scriptures as it is given to them; 9) Catholic priests have authority to forgive sins; 10) the Roman Catholic Church changed the Sabbath from the seventh day to Sunday, the first day.”
How do Seventh Day Sabbatarians respond to these assertions? Canright continues, “They quickly deny all the first nine, say they are all lies, without any foundation in fact. But when you come to the tenth one, the change of the Sabbath, then Adventists fall over each other to accept every word of this as the infallible truth. It settles the question beyond dispute. ‘The Catholic Church just owns it right up’ that it did really do the job!!”
He then drives his point home with this brilliant courtroom analogy:
“Adventists bring their chief witness into court. But when he is sworn they acknowledge that nine-tenths of his testimony is a lie, is perjury, but one-tenth of what he swears to is true. On this they claim they have won their case! Selah! Any judge would quickly throw out of court such testimony as worthless, yet this is the witness, and the only witness, Adventists can produce saying that the Roman Church changed the Sabbath. See any of their publications on this point.”
The case presented by Canright barely requires concluding comments at all. As we proved in the first article of this series, there was no such thing as a pagan Sunday weekly worship day in Rome or Greece for Christians to take over in the first place. Combine these with the historical testimony of the early church fathers that the Christian practice of gathering for worship on Sunday was a well established tradition long before the 300’s, not confined to the geographical area of Rome, not a replacement Sabbath, and overwhelmingly adopted due to their reverence of Jesus’s resurrection- the argument for pagan origins becomes increasingly brittle.
In the next article we’ll delve into accusations regarding Constantine, the power of Rome, and various ecumenical councils.