Sunday in Antiquity

Sunday in Antiquity

What are the historical roots for Sunday worship?

By A.W. Werline

The Sabbath truth as held by Sev­enth-day Adventists is incontrovertible. It has a historical and Biblical back­ground that assures its divine insti­tuting. It is as old as the creation of the world, and will continue throughout eternity. Isa. 66: 23. The steps by which the Sabbath was made — resting, blessing, sanctifying — were taken at the close of creation week. Ex. 20:8-11. It was made for man. Mark 2:27. It was given as a reminder of creation. Ex. 31:17. With these facts before us, it is out of the ques­tion to think that such an institution did not exist from the beginning of history.

The law given at Mt. Sinai was not a new conception of human relation­ships to God or man, but a concreting of principles as old as creation itself. In this law the Sabbath had a con­spicuous place, but its origin must be sought much earlier. The experience of the children of Israel as recorded in Exodus sixteen shows that before the giving of the law at Sinai the Sab­bath was observed.

The seven-day week was. God's own division of time, and the Sabbath marked its close. Such a week has been preserved only through the line of God's chosen people. Heathen na­tions, in their idolatrous tendencies, lost the significance of a consecutive week of seven days. This fact pre­cludes the exaltation of any one weekly day above another among such peoples. Sunday had no significance above any other day among the nations of an­tiquity. These nations had no seven-day week of consecutive order. The Babylonians had a seventh-day Sab­bath, but it ' was tied to the lunar month." 1 The Babylonians had " no knowledge of a week proper." While the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days of the first month and the 5th, 12th, and 19th of the second, were some kind of penitential days, and show a seven-day division of time, the division was spoiled for lending any significance to a weekly day by the fact that the months varied from twenty-nine to thirty days, and the divisions into the seven-day periods had to " be adjusted by a ten-day week at the end of every second month."'

No one day in any seven-day con­secutive week had special significance, and hence there was no weekly recur­ring Sunday as we understand it. In fact, Babylonian tablets show a month of six five-day periods.'

In Egypt appears a seven-day week in early antiquity, but Sunday had no significance over any other day. Here " each hour was consecrated to a par­ticular planet, ... and the day received the name of the planet which presided over its first hour." I In Egypt sev­eral centuries before Christ there were subdivisions of the month into weeks of ten days. No significance could attach to Sunday in any such arrange­ment as to differentiate it from any other day. As a day of special sig­nificance, Sunday was unknown to the Egyptians, though they venerated the sun.

In the early empire of Persia there is no evidence of a seven-day week, al­though some writers maintain that a five-day week was found there Hence there was no place for a weekly recurring Sunday as we understand it.

Another world power was Greece, which conquered Persia. Greece had no week of seven days, for " they di­vided the month into three decades, or periods, of ten days." In the ten-day period the seven-day week is com­pletely lost, and with the loss of the seven-day week, Sunday disappears from view. There is no evidence what­ever that the Greeks had any regard for Sunday above any other day.

Rome followed and conquered Greece. Regarding a seven-day week we search in vain in early pagan Rome. Their method of reckoning time was very inconvenient and complicated, and we will satisfy ourselves with a statement from Tucker to the effect that the " Roman's had no such thing as Sunday." 8 The introduction of the seven-day week into Western Rome was from the East. Opinions differ as to the time.

We have already studied the place of Sunday in the world powers of antiquity. A briefer sketch of the week among the lesser peoples is pertinent to our study. " In old Japan the week was unknown." In parts of Africa " five, six, and eight day weeks are found." 10 Scandinavia had a five-day week."

Thus it is seen that the evidence in favor of Sunday significance among the nations of antiquity is lacking. The statement too often heard, that " Sunday was the wild solar holiday of all pagan times," cannot be substan­tiated from history. If true, it would add nothing , to the seventh-day Sab­bath argument, and being unsupported, it takes nothing away.

The Sabbath truth is independent of any heathen institutions, and, let me repeat, has been perpetuated only through the line of God's chosen people. The seven-day week was God's .own division, and to the Hebrew people is due a consecutive seven-day week among subsequent nations.' Such a week has been unaffected by calendar changes, nor can its origin be con­nected with the planets!'

Sunday as a sacred holy day appears first in the religion of Mithra." This religion was introduced into Rome from the East about the first century B. c., and from it apostate Christianity got its Sunday." The seventh-day Sabbath hinges in no way upon the history of Sunday.

Washington, D. C.


1 The International Standard Bible En­cyclopedia, art. " Astronomy," Vol. I, 1915, division I, 5, (3), p. 304.

2 The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, art. " Week," Vol. XII, p. 283.

3 Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, art. " Calendar " (Babylonian), Vol. III, p. 76 (footnote).

4 The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, art. " Week," Vol. XII, p. 283.

5 Encyclopedia Britannica, art. " Calen­dar," Vol. IV, p. 988.

6 Id., art. " Week," Vol. XXVIII, p. 466. Id., 11th edition, art. " Calendar," Vol. IV, p. 988 ; also the Schaff-Herzog Encyclo­pedia of Religious Knowledge, art. " Sun­day," Vol. XI, p. 147.

* Professor Werline is head of the Depart­ment of History of Washington Missionary College, and specialist In the field of the Middle Ages. Incidentally, this paper has been read and the positions confirmed by such teachers and scholars as C. M. Soren­son, W. G. Wirth, N. J. Waldorf, C. P. Boll-man, and W. W. Prescott.— Ed

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By A.W. Werline

August 1928

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