Saturday, September 03, 2005

More on Sunday

As a follow up to my earlier post on Sunday, I thought I would cite here some of the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus on the issue of the Sabbath and a day of rest. I am struck again by how uniform the theology of the second century church was, a uniformity often obscured by the fact that this theology differs in a number of ways from later theologies.

The two arguments, from Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching and Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, both take place in the context of anti-Jewish polemic, indicating again that the observance of the Sabbath as a divine command was seen as Judaizing. In Justin Martyr, it is in fact a constant theme returned to again and again as an example of Jewish incomprehension and pseudo-piety. The following passages are particularly trenchant. In chapter X, the Jew Trypho makes this charge against Christians:

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 [emphasis added].

The emphasized passage in particular makes it crystal clear that the Christians had no special calendar. They did not observe any schedule of rest and work different from the heathens around them.

Justin in his own person then replies to Trypho (ch. 12):

The new law [i.e. the law of Christ, Gal. 6:2, the universal ethic finally announced for all time by Jesus] 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.

And again in chapter 18:

For we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you,--namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts. For if we patiently endure all things contrived against us by wicked men and demons, so that even amid cruelties unutterable, death and torments, we pray for mercy to those who inflict such things upon us, and do not wish to give the least retort to any one, even as the new Lawgiver commanded us: how is it, Trypho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us,--I speak of fleshly circumcision, and Sabbaths, and feasts?

Chapter 21 is dedicated to further arguing the assertion,

Moreover, that God enjoined you to keep the Sabbath, and impose on you other precepts for a sign, as I have already said, on account of your unrighteousness, and that of your fathers

He goes on to adduce the example of the patriarchs who were saved without observing any sabbaths, and argues that this variety in days indicates that none of them could be truly part of divine righteousness (chap. 23). This argument would clearly also militate against any Sunday Sabbatarianism as well.

As for Sunday, he speaks of it this way:

The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first (chap. 41).

Justin Martyr's famous description of Sunday worship in his First Apology likewise contains no mention of any abstention from work.

Irenaeus, in his Proof of the Apostolic Teaching records how Christians do not need the (Jewish) Law, since they already fulfill so much more than it:

Therefore we have no need of the law as pedagogue. Behold we speak with the Father and stand face to face with Him, become infants in malice, and made strong in all justice and propriety. For no more . . . will he be commanded to leave idle one day of rest, who is constantly keeping sabbath, that is, giving homage to God in the temple of God which is man's body, and at all times doing works of justice (ch. 96).

Irenaeus and Justin Martyr clearly differ from the Epistle to Barnabas in their lower view of sin and their tendency to assume complete sinlessness in the Christian life (the change is not positive, I think), but their rejection of any Sabbatarian divine command is the same.