Refuting the “Pagan Origins of the Lord’s Day” Myth Part 2: Did the Roman Catholic Church Change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?

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 Wikipedia entry for “catholic” notes the following:

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:

Source: Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines (Torrance, CA: Rose, 2005), 179

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:

Epistle of Barnabas (written sometime between 70 AD and 132 AD):

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.”

Ignatius of Antioch’s (110 AD) Letter to the Magnesians 9:

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.”

Justin Martyr’s (150 AD) First Apology:

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 Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho 10:

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.

Tertullian (200 AD) Ad Nationes 13:

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.”

Other early church fathers who corroborate the testimonies of those above are: Dionysus the Bishop of Corinth (170 AD); Irenaeus the Bishop of Lyons (178 AD); Clement of Alexandria (194 AD); Cyprian the Bishop of Carthage (253 AD), etc.

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”?

Another integral aspect to the argument is the fact that the early Christians did not view their gathering on Sunday for worship in any way as a “replacement Sabbath” as most Seventh Day Sabbatarians allege. This may come as a shock to many Sunday Sabbatarians, but should not be ignored. To any reader interested in an in depth presentation of the history of Saturday vs Sunday, I highly recommend Saturday and Sunday in History: Research Papers by Michael D. Morrison, Thomas C. Hanson, and Ralph G. Orr.

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’s list 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.

Click here to access part 3 of this series: On the Power of Rome, Constantine, and Councils